On trading a ski pass for powder skis
When temps start to drop and Colorado receives its first dustings of snow, I find myself looking to buy a ski pass. I’ll hum and haw over buying an Epic this or an Icon that or a Collective something else. But is a ski pass worth the cost? This winter brings increased skier traffic (more people have remote jobs that give them flexible schedules), uncertain resort operations, and a limiting reservation process. Rather than bear down and shell out the money for another season’s pass, I plan to experiment with an alternative to ski resort chaos:
Forego a ski pass and buy powder touring skis instead.
The Pros and Cons of a Ski Pass
What is the value of a season’s pass? Well, ski resorts provide a lot of infrastructure to make a comfortable skiing experience. They manage all of the snow safety, they plow the parking lots, they clear skiable terrain during the summer, and they even manufacture snow early season. All of that frontloaded work helps to maximize your time spent skiing.
But ski resorts also hold some major downsides. Ski resorts are crowded. Waiting in lift lines means less time skiing. When you get off the lift, you’re most likely competing for scarce fresh snow. Once ready for something to eat, on-mountain dining halls can be more packed than a Celine Dion concert. Big gatherings at ski resorts are particularly pertinent to consider during a global pandemic. Will ski hills be able to stay open through the winter? The premature finish to last season speaks to the uncertainty around resort operations. Powder touring skis could be a great solution to ski resort volatility.
What is Powder Touring?
Powder touring skis are wider than average backcountry skis. They are built with a lightweight construction, small turning radius and rockered shape. Powder touring skis are meant to wiggle through trees, powder porpoise across meadows, and save sacred grams for the uphill so you can stay out touring for longer.
My powder touring set up will fulfill all of the type-1, care-free fun of resort skiing while also replacing crowds with fresh snow. A wider, lighter ski can move faster on low angle slopes. By sticking to mellow slopes, I reduce my exposure to avalanche danger. (Keep in mind that steeper connected terrain and variation in macroscopic slope structure can still introduce avalanche hazard. Low angle slopes reduce, but don’t entirely eliminate exposure to avalanche risk.) Powder touring skis open up mellow terrain that other backcountry skiers can’t even touch. One could spend a full season wiggling through their own low angle powder paradise, and maybe even forget what a mogul even looks like.
Looking Forward to Winter
What are people’s thoughts on this alternative? Should you too save the money spent on a ski pass and instead harvest low angle pow? Powder touring skis could be a golden ticket to a ski ticketless winter season. The resorts will be crowded, challenging to reserve, and have uncertain operation. The low angle backcountry awaits with lower avalanche risk, endless fresh snow, and a season’s worth of adventure.
Some exceptional powder touring skis out there include the Voile Hyper V8, DPS Pagoda Tour 112, or G3 SLAYR 114. These are lightweight skis with a >110mm waist width and <1600g weight. I'd pair any of these skis with a binding like the Dynafit Superlite 150 and Pomoca Free Pro 2.0 skins to save as much weight as possible on the uphill (because less weight equals more skiing equals more fun).
I understand that there are some significant barriers to entry to this proposition of swapping a ski pass for a powder touring setup, and I hope to acknowledge them here:
Backcountry skiing and ski touring require a learned knowledge that makes the transition from resort skiing challenging. I don’t want to write off the difficulty involved in learning how to translate resort skiing experience to the world of backcountry travel. Fortunately, there are trained professionals to help with that transition through private guiding or structured education.
Skiing is an expensive pursuit, for both on and off piste skiing. Buying a season’s pass is about $1,000 (either the Epic or the Icon. The Mountain Collective is $600 for two days per resort). A powder touring setup is about $1,500 (skis, bindings, and skins). So the powder touring kit is rendered cost effective after two seasons of use.
Not all people have equal access to backcountry ski terrain. The challenge to find safe, fun backcountry ski terrain is not trivial.
Slator Aplin lives in the San Juans. He enjoys time spent in the mountains, pastries paired with coffee, and adventures-gone-wrong. You can often find him outside Telluride’s local bakery — Baked in Telluride.