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Gear That Got It Done: Valle Nevado Edition

October 29, 2015

  • by
  • Drew Zieff

Every summer, Active Junky migrates south. Not unlike Monarch Butterflies fluttering to the warmth of Mexico or Wildebeests swarming to Kenya’s green pastures, the team heeds nature’s call. Instead of seeking tropical temps, however, we fly to Chile in search of the opposite. 

Like clockwork, we say “goodbye” to summer and “hola” to winter. We load up skis and snowboards, cram the latest winter gear into oversized duffels and take off on an annual migration to the snow-capped Andes. 

2015 was no different. From our home base in Valle Nevado, Chile, we skied groomers, skinned into the backcountry, bootpacked couloirs and hit the terrain parks. Gear testers literally flew off of hundred-foot cliffs (in a speedwing rig), hucked double backflips off a roof, hammered turns and scored powder. No doubt, it was a summer for the books. 

As fun-filled as our travels may have been, we went to Chile with a mission: to seek out the best winter gear of the year. From the 23 bags of gear (you read that right) we brought down to Chile, this is the cream of the crop, the cat’s pajamas, the bee’s knees. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the Gear That Got It Done:

Icebreaker Zone One Sheep Suit

Icebreaker BodyFit 200 Zone One Sheep Suit This next level merino wool onesie is going to upgrade your winter in a major way.  Once again taking advantage of the heat-regulating properties of merino wool, Icebreaker’s BodyfitZONE tech balances 200gm jersey for thermal retention in the core with an almost perforated 120gm Eyelet Zone fabric (nicknamed the “heat-dumping zone”) under the arms. All tech aside, sheepish testers didn’t want to take off their Sheep Suits, falling head over heels for the adaptable warmth and breathable comfort of this Icebreaker baselayer. The chest zipper and hood add temperature management options while the fly and two-way-zipping backflap made it so testers really never had to get out of their Sheep Suits. 

Tester Quote: “We wore the Sheep Suits as long as we could. I’d sleep in mine, even after a day of skinning in the backcountry. Merino stays odor free, dries quickly and sheds moisture—so why not?!”

Best For: Any snowsport or cold-weather activity

Rome Mod Rocker Snowboard

Rome Mod Rocker Snowboard The Mod Rocker Recipe: One flat section underfoot. Rockered nose and tail.  Two carbon rods reacting dynamically within a milled wood core. A directional, almost angular shape with an innovative sidecut. Stir it all together and you’ve got a super springy and responsive all mountain board that’s playful at speed. Testers took the Mod Rocker from the terrain parks to the steep and rocky ridgelines of the Valle Nevado sidecountry, loving the freestyle flavor present in this capable all-mountain package. 

Tester Quote: “Awesome, fun and trustworthy board. Brings playfulness to all-mountain riding; it inspires creative lines and tricks without sacrificing strength or responsiveness.” 

Best For: intermediate to advanced riders looking for a flat-based quiver killer

BCA Float Packs (22L and 32L)

BCA Float 32 Airbag Starting at: $494.96 BCA Float 22 Airbag

BCA’s slogan is, “BCA: The most trusted name in the backcountry.” After years of relying on their gear, we tend to agree. We brought two BCA airbag packs down to Chile this time around: the Float 32L and the Float 22L. The 22L is certainly more agile for freestyle oriented skiers, though testers found the 32L to be a better size when hauling crampons, extra layers and a DSLR camera. In both cases, pocket space was well thought out: the design of the outer pocket easily held shovel and probe while the internal space was not overwhelmed by the airbag cylinder. In addition to more space, the 32L has more handy features (including a useful top-accessible goggle pocket). Otherwise, the Float 22 is preferable on road-accessible backcountry jaunts, sidecountry freestyle days or quick backcountry missions—anytime when the extra space isn’t necessary.

Tester Quote: “Luckily, the snowpack was pretty stable, so we didn’t pull the BCA pack out of necessity. We did, however, pull both bags to test speed, ease of use and reliability. Reed pulled one of the bags while he did a backflip in the park (laughs). In all seriousness, though, they inflated quickly and without fail. I’ll be recommending the new 2016 bags to all of my backcountry partners.” 

Best For: Backcountry skiers and snowboarders who want to explore safely

Leki Blue Bird Carbon Ski Pole

Leki Blue Bird Carbon Ski Pole

The carbon composite Leki Blue Birds ski better than they look—and they look pretty sweet. A stiff, responsive shaft is topped with a Trigger S Downhill Thermo Mid Grip (a solid grip with an extension for hiking) and the Trigger Shark Vario Strap (which clips into the Leki Krypton S Gloves – burly, guide-worthy gloves that testers also loved – for a system that releases easily upon impact). 

Tester Quote: “Touring was a breeze, skiing was a blast. A solid pair of poles, especially when combined with the Krypton S Gloves.”

Best For: Skiers who want one pair of poles to handle everything—in and out of bounds

Mountain Hardwear Micro Thermostatic Jacket

Mountain Hardwear Micro Thermostatic Jacket Starting at: $157.46

Active Junky gives Mountain Hardwear two toasty thumbs up for the Micro Thermostatic Insulated Jacket, a new addition to the line. At only 8 ounces, this ultralight insulator packs down to a delightfully manageable size, imitating the more expensive goose down that inspired its creation. Though not as warm as other more expensive/bulkier jackets, this versatile, synthetic alpine insulator is lighter than most comparable products on the market and was a tester favorite even as temps dropped into the 20s. From all-day forays into the Chilean backcountry and strolls through the rainy streets of Santiago to fall backpacking trips back home in Colorado, testers agree that the Micro Thermostatic Jacket is an excellent everyday insulator and a packable emergency layer.

Tester Quote: “Over the past few months of testing, no piece of gear has so quickly become an integral part of my outdoor life like the Micro Thermostatic Jacket.”

Best For: Cold weather layering, being prepared, traveling in comfort (makes a great travel pillow, too)

Anon M3

Anon M3 MFI $87.40 - $292.46

We can’t get enough of the Anon M3—it’s like we’re magnetically attracted to it… Please forgive our dreadful pun, but understand that the Anon magnetic attachment system is perhaps the best thing to happen to ski goggles since polarized lenses. 18 magnets (9 on the crystal clear lens, 9 on the flexible frame) join for an unparalleled interchangeable lens system. We paired the M3 with the Anon Rodan Helmet for an integrated, stylish and safe combo. 

Bonus: The MFI balaclava has magnets sewn into the hem and easily attaches to the bottom of the M3 frame for simple, comfortable and effective face protection. 

Tester Quote: “The M3s are on par with other top tier goggles when it comes to the lens. The interchangeability system and the magnetic balaclava, however, make them a game changer. I’m never going back.”

Best For: Skiers and snowboarders who have been waiting for the perfect goggle

Thule RoundTrip Double Ski Roller

Thule RoundTrip Double Ski Roller

On any ski trip that requires a flight, a roller bag is a prerequisite. Thule’s saved the day on many an Active Junky adventure, and the RoundTrip Double Ski Roller was true to form on our latest trip to Chile. Burly padding (including removable cinch-top tip and tail protectors) is to be expected from the brand, as is the smart design and utilitarian lugging options. The Roundtrip has handles on both ends and one on the side plus a removable shoulder strap—all made more useful by gravel- and ice-conquering wheels. With the RoundTrip, Thule makes one of the most inglorious aspects of travel (tottering awkwardly with skis in tow, bashing into passersby and sticking out like only a tourist can) easy. A piece of cake on wheels. 

Tester Quote: “A good two-ski bag is hard to find. With two pairs of skis in the bag, we still had space for poles, helmets and a snowboard (with bindings removed). A new staple on international ski trips.”

Best For: International trips, ski trips of any sort, protection in the back of a pickup truck

Suunto Ambit3

Suunto Ambit3 Sport Disclaimer: this watch is a tech-filled rabbit’s hole, full of labyrinthine passages that some users won’t begin to explore. However, if you live and breathe tech or you’re looking to start seriously tracking your activity, Suunto’s Ambit3 Sport is an excellent pick. While traveling, testers appreciated the relatively slim fit and the clear interface. On the mountain, skiers and riders are able to track expected stats like speed, distance and altitude—but they’re also able to check their heart rate (with the Suunto Smart Sensor) and transmit stats to smartphones (via the Movescount App). Backcountry skiers will enjoy dabbling with the route navigation features (including a track back element)—and other handy additions that make this Suunto a wrist-worthy option for more than just triathletes. 

Tester Quote: “There’s so much going on here—I keep finding new features and uses.  At a base level, it’s a solid, stylish watch. The deeper you go, though, the more amazing it gets.”

Best For: Multi-sport athletes, international travelers who are serious about their stats, tracking and analyzing workouts

Camelbak Snoblast Caper 14L

Camelbak Snoblast Caper 14L

Though you can fit shovel and probe for a quick backcountry tour, the Snowblast Caper’s small yet smart profile shines as an in-bounds daypack or as a sidecountry hauler. A well-padded back panel adds comfort and a touch of protection in case you take a digger, while comfortable shoulder straps, a removable waist belt and a sternum strap cinch and secure the backpack—even on fast and/or technical terrain. An overall burly build (backed with CamelBak’s lifetime guarantee), intelligently designed features like the diagonal ski carry strap, the helmet carry and the fleecy goggle pocket as well as the company’s famous hydration tech (a 3L Antidote Reservoir with a tight-locking valve, easy open wide-mouth lid and insulated PureFlow tube) made the Caper a major hit among testers in Chile. 

Tester Quote: “The back panel is super comfortable, and I felt relaxed snowboarding with my camera in the snug, padded main body. The insulated tube was another favorite feature as it refused to freeze in frosty temps.”

Best For: Mid-winter hydration, all-day in-bounds use, quick backcountry/sidecountry treks

Volkl Mantra Skis

Volkl Mantra Starting at: $608.13

Mantra is a household name among serious skiers—and a ski of choice for many all-mountain-ripping Active Junky gear testers. The 2016 Mantra tore lines all over Valle Nevado, from sun-baked steeps to wind-loaded pow stashes. The titanium core is more noticeable than ever as the Mantra sees its second year of a powder-shredding full rocker profile. 

Tester Quote: “I love them. I have an older pair, too. The new version is burly, full of metal and just wants to rip!

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