I figured I’d better get this all down on paper before the Koolaid wears off, so here is an overview of what Dynafit is doing for us backcountry skiers. Warning, the product line is huge so this might be the longest blog post I’ve ever written. If you get through the whole thing please leave a comment so I know you’re still okay, otherwise we’ll contact you to check your vital signs.
Dynafit’s corporate mission and marketing are quite interesting. They’re promoting themselves as a niche company that’s focused on ski mountaineering. That’s it, period. In terms of clothing, skis, bindings, or backpacks, the company has no interest in designing products for resort skiing, and really has little interest in whether its products “cross over” or not. I find that to be refreshing, if not compelling. While I understand the desirability (if not the necessity) for some companies to design for and market to everything from terrain park skiers to helicopter guides, it’s quite something to see a company toss all but one snowfish out of its barrel. Pure and simple, Dynafit gear is designed for earning your turns — perhaps with some mechanized access in the mix — but muscle power is the mission.
What that mission means is that everything from Dynafit’s skis to their ice axe is minimalist, as lightweight as possible, and designed with fairly experienced users in mind. Examples: you’re not going to find kevlar butt patches on Dynafit pants; you’re not going to find backpacks you can use as spine protection if you fall on your back in a scree field (perhaps so for one-time use…). In other words, this gear expects users who respect it, care for it, and enjoy the return of floating uphill. Downsides to this philosophy: the clothing is more form fitting than is currently stylish in some circles, the backpacks are small and built with thin fabric, the binding is not a resort grabber, and so on. But on the whole, even after taking a Koolaid antidote, I have to say I’m impressed by how true the Dynafit product line is to their mission, and how much it suites the dawn patrol lifestyle.
What’s interesting to me is that with Salewa (Dynafit’s parent company) starting it’s own North American distribution company this year, they’ll be making their whole product line available to outdoor shops in Canada and the States. How much of the gear you’ll actually get to fondle will of course be up to shop buyers, but I suspect you’ll see more of it than in the past — and perhaps some of the bolder retailers will carry most of the line.
With that in mind, below is an overview of what you might see in the flesh.
The complete Dynafit ski line comprises fifteen models divided into three categories. The “Free Touring” group is what probably resonates with most North American ski mountaineers as it’s the wider models that will perform the best in western and mid continental snow. Here at WildSnow.com we’ve skied he FT 10.0 extensively and like it, and we’re also testing the Seven Summits, a ski that’s slightly narrower and softer than the FT 10.0 and appears to be invented for western US powder and crud skiing. The Mustagh Ata is a weight optimized version of the FT 10.0, and is said to not ski quite as well as the regular FT 10.0, while the FT 7.0 is a twin tip that behaved nicely when I skied them for two days in Italy, and the FT 6.0 is a narrow waisted plank that’s for those wanting a more classic mountaineering board that still has some sidecut.
|Dynafit “Free Touring” skis, from top: Seven Summits; Mustagh Ata; 10.0; 7.0; 6.0
For the ladies, the FT 10.0 comes in a women’s model. Last year this was the same ski as the regular FT 10.0, only with different graphics. This year’s ski might continue that, though softer pairs may have been picked to receive the graphics. (Here at WildSnow.com I’m not convinced there is such a thing as a women’s ski any more than a men’s specific ski, so I’m not exactly interested in exacerbating my carpel tunnel syndrome by keyboarding what that means in any company’s model line, Dynafit included. Some of you in the female category may differ. If so, comments are enabled.)
The Dynafit “Ski Touring” group of skis has several narrower more traditional skis that save weight and have that nimble feel while climbing that only a skinny ski can give. Of interest in this category is the Gasherbrum, a plank designed especially for skiing steep hard snow such as that found on 8,000 meter peaks — or your local fourteener. Another compelling model is the 1.0, a short little thang offered in only 130 cm, intended for spring skiing. This type of “firn glider” has been available for years, and only gets better as it incorporates more and more modern ski technology. Last time I skied on a shortie like that was years ago, and it wasn’t exactly a great experience, but those were two-x-fours compared to Dynafit’s attempt, so we’ll try to give these a test this spring. They’d sure be easy to carry on a backpack.
For those of you who want nothing on their feet, the three Dynafit “Ski Running” models compromise performance for weight. These skis are said to downhill quite well considering how narrow and light they are, but don’t expect miracles in performance. The top of the race line is the SR 11.0, which only comes in 160 cm and weighs 850 grams per ski. Like they say at Dynafit, “speed up.”
Dynafit’s backpacks are design intensive works that offer an impressive compromise between weight and beef. I like the FT 18 model best, as it’s got lash straps on the outside I can use to carry clothing that won’t cram into the sack’s 18 liter volume. The FT 28 looks interesting as well, with 28 liter volume yet a feather weight of 930 grams (which hovers at the magic two pound limit for the maximum we feel lightweight daypack should weigh).
But if you do need a bit more volume, Dynafit offers lightweight packs in 32 liter models as well. All packs come with a nicely designed ski carrying system that allows you to sling your skis without removing the pack. Such systems can be built on any backpack, but it’s nice to have something factory integrated.
I’ve already covered the Dynafit boot line in a previous blog post, but it bears repeating that this year brings almost all new Dynafit boots, including several models that may combine the ultimate in weight vs performance for a Dynafit compatible shoe. Also, don’t forget that the venerable TLT 4 model is also still available, offering the ultimate in climbing and walking performance in a boot you can still ski in.
|Dynafit Zzero2 boot is their lightest weight boot that’s still designed as a full-on ski touring boot. It includes carbon fiber reinforcement on tongue and lower rear of cuff. The boot is also sold without that carbon fiber as model Zxzero3. I’ve not skied in these boots, but they looked good and might make an excellent lightweight touring shoe. Catalog claims weight as 1395 g for size 27.5. Note the speed holes in the upper part of the tongue. Speed holes are important if you want to speed up. Besides the speed holes, what’s nearly miraculous (seriously) about the new Dynafit boots is that the shell tounge is actually high enough to prevent the power strap from slipping up and off the tongue. What a concept!
The hardest thing for me to get a grip on in the Dynafit catalog is the clothing. It’s incredible stuff — what’s hard is there is just so much of it, with so many technical details. Oh well, I guess that’s why there are incredibly knowledgeable people sitting by your favorite online store’s customer service phone just living to help you. But, just in case that’s NOT the case, here is a rundown. First, know that this clothing is designed for ski touring, with no compromise. If an item needs to be form fitting, it is. If an item isn’t warm enough to sit on a chairlift for a half hour in December, it’s not, because this isn’t clothing for sitting on chairlifts.
The Dynafit clothing line is divided into layering categories. Baselayer comprises a number of nice looking pieces built without seams in critical areas and with the usual super wicking fabrics you see in any top of the line sports under garments. Some of the items have Gore Windstopper in critical areas — a nice feature for high level athletes but probably overkill for those of us who take the slow-but-steady approach to harvesting vertical. But, if you do qualify (under 30 and with less than 12 % body fat), the Avalanche racing suit is the ultimate form fitting one-piece. It would work equally well for competition, or a top-layer for speed ascents.
In the ubiquitous soft shell category, Dynafit has a truly interesting jacket they call the Four Elements. This item hybridizes by adding a layer of Primaloft over your front abdominal area, with a vent system under the arms that works like the series of gill openings on a fish. I have to admit this is probably the most technical item of clothing I’ve ever seen. Even if it works half as well as claimed it’s gotta be good, and certainly worth a test here at WildSnow. In soft shell pants, my son is interested in the Pamir model, which has an innovative “waist gaiter” that allows them to be worn low with a belt, while still covering that oft exposed and weather beaten upper area of your rear end.
|Some of the Dynafit clothing line, click to enlarge.
In the insulation realm, Dynafit offers two high quality down jackets (one minimal and packable, and one a walking sleeping bag for expedition use or as a belay parka.) For synthetic insulation you can pick from a Primaloft jacket and a Powerstretch fleece jacket, both with Dynafit’s trim fit and minimalist design. Also in the insulation category, the company has several “hybrid” layers. We like the hybrid Racing Jacket the best, as it’s a nicely made fleece insulated shell that’s perfect for dry yet cold conditions like we frequently have in Colorado.
Moving along: the Dynafit hardshell garments. These appear designed to work over soft shell by being exceptionally light, though their form fitting cut would have to build on top of other trim layers or you will look like an over stuffed sausage. The Snowdrift jacket is the flagship, made with Gore’s state of art Proshell 3-layer fabric that’s said to be several steps beyond anything in terms of durability and weight savings. Several hardshell pant models round out the line. Mustagh Ata has a non-characteristic looser cut, while the Jetstream is more your basic overpant and has a trimmer profile. Both have full length side zippers — a non negotiable feature for us so we were glad to see it.
What else? I won’t cover bindings here since we do that frequently in regular blog posts. So it’s on to the ski poles and climbing skins. Ah yes, ski poles. They so frequently over promise and under deliver. Fact is, once you get your ski and pack weight down to modern levels, you can start feeling like your poles are some kind of medieval club better suited to knocking a knight off his horse than doing nimble ski turns down a mountain. To that end, Dynafit’s main mission with poles is to make them truly lightweight. The key to that is carbon, of course, but also the use of lightweight grips. I’ve got a pair of their adjustable full carbon poles and they’re easily the lightest weight adjustable poles I’ve ever used. How they’ll stand up to abuse I don’t know, and how reliability of the length adjustment mechanism is another unknown, but these sticks are definitely worth a look. Caveat, perhaps more than any other item in Dynafit’s line, their ski poles represent a no compromise approach to making something efficient and light. That doesn’t mean these poles have unusual durability problems, but they’re definitely not designed for cliff hacking monsters who make pole bending beater falls part of their regular repertoire.
As for climbing skins, all but the Dynafit shortie firn skis come with their proprietary skin attachment system. While Dynafit’s system works fine, I’m coming to really dislike the trend of shaping ski tips and tails for special skin fixes. Problems with this are many. First, you end up with skins that are hard to use on skis without the special cutouts. At WildSnow this is more than an annoyance, as we like to test skis in the backcountry rather than using ski lifts, and every time a ski with a dedicated fix system comes in, we’ve got to take the time and effort to either change a pair of our own skins over to the new ski’s system, or else bother the company to send us skins with the ski. On a more somber note, within a ski touring group skins should be somewhat cross compatible between skis so they can be passed around in an emergency. This is already tough enough due to the variations in modern ski widths and sidecuts, but skis with dedicated fixation systems make it even harder. What’s more, if you do tear or otherwise wreck a skin, if your skis require special skins it can be a heap of trouble getting another pair of special proprietary skins rigged up the evening before a trip.
Dynafit also sells a few hats, gloves and accessories such as shovels, ice ax, etc., but this is as much typing as I can take for one day. In all, any ski mountaineer should be impressed by a company coming out with such an extensive product line for a part of skiing that’s definitely not mainstream. But enough of that, I’m going skiing and testing some planks. And nope, they’re not all Dynafit, so don’t worry, the Koolaid has worn off. That said, those Seven Summits are kinda nice…
|Oh, one other thing. I’d never really figured out the Dynafit “face” logo ’till my mind was opened with special elixers at the Sulden hut. It’s based on the snow leopard, which (joking aside), is an inspiring animal and makes a spirited logo.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.