Backcountry Suggested Gear

It is essential that you do a careful job in selecting and preparing your equipment for backcountry skiing and riding in the northern Green Mountains. Winter weather in the region is a major objective hazard and can present extreme challenges. Temperatures are typically in the high teens to low 30’s but can easily drop to -10 F or -20 F and can be accompanied by high winds and blowing snow. These conditions, in combination with the greatly varied activity levels inherent to backcountry skiing and riding, can easily lead to problems of hypothermia or frostbite. For your own safety and that of the group, please take this equipment list seriously. 

Our backcountry terrain is almost entirely above 2000’ and much of it is along higher ridgelines, with less shelter from high winds and the elements.  When equipping yourself for winter backcountry travel in this type of environment, you should pay equal attention to having adequate protection from the elements as to the necessity for traveling light.  Many times, on longer trips especially, where space and weight are at a premium, it’s beneficial to travel light and avoid duplicate layers.  But for day tours around the Bolton area, we encourage people to carry an extra base and/or midweight layer so they always have a dry option on-hand, as well as an easily compressible down jacket (preferably +/- 800 fill).

Please take the time to carefully prepare and understand your equipment.   If you’ll be renting touring gear from us, try to leave yourself at least a half hour or so before the tour or clinic to size your equipment properly and decide on the right option for your needs and ability level.  For our introductory clinics, we’ll spend time going over the equipment and explaining how it all works, but for tours it’s generally expected that participants have their equipment ready to go at the outset.

Backcountry skiing and riding are a lot fun – even more so when you’re well prepared for the conditions you’ll encounter.  That said, you can’t bring absolutely everything all the time.  Following is a list of our best suggestions.  It’s not meant as a definitive list of must-haves, but it’s a good guide to reference and mix and match depending on the day.

Suggested Backcountry Gear

Clothing System

Base Layer Top:  This will be your base layer and should be “lightweight” or “silk weight” synthetic or wool. NO cotton allowed.
Materials:  Synthetic, wool

Base Layer Bottom:  Look for the same features as your Base Layer Top.
Materials: Synthetic, wool.

Undergarments:  Most skiers wear undergarments underneath their base layer. 
Materials: Synthetic, wool

2nd Layer Top:  A lightweight fleece or wind shirt.  A chest pocket is a helpful feature of this multi-use layer.
Materials:  Nylon, powerstretch fleece, wind stopper, PL100/150

Soft Shell Jacket:  A thin, light, stretchy, breathable but wind and snow-resistant layer that is comfortable to wear is ideal.  This will be your ‘action layer’ and the outer layer that you spend the most time in. Hoods are optional but highly recommended.  Size your jacket to be trim-fitting, but large enough to fit over your base and second layers.
Materials:  Schoeller, Powerstretch, Powerdry, or similar

Soft Shell Pants:  This will be your outermost layer most of the time for your legs.  Look for the same features as your softshell jacket.  A thigh pocket is a useful feature for storing small items.
Materials:  Schoeller, Powerstretch, Powerdry, or similar

Shell Jacket:  This layer needs to be lightweight, waterproof, and breathable. Your shell should be sized to comfortably fit over your other base and mid-layers (minus your insulating layer). Choose the lightest, most packable shell that will still get the job done. You may be using your jacket every day (in warm, wet weather) or perhaps only during an occasional storm. Avoid extra pockets (one or two chest pockets is all you need), 3-layer Gore-Tex, and hanging linings. Your jacket should have a hood.
Materials: eVent, Gore-tex, h2No, or similar

Shell Pants:  Made of a waterproof/breathable material, your lightweight shell bottoms should have full or hip-length side zips. This garment should be extremely lightweight and packable. A zipper fly is a nice optional luxury.
Materials: eVent, Gore-tex, h2No, or similar

Light Insulating Top: The goal for this piece is to add warmth to your internal layering system. Depending on your clothing system and the environment you are in, you may fit this layer underneath your shell gear (e.g. fleece sweaters) or over your shell gear (lightweight insulated jackets). 
Materials: fleece, Primaloft, down

Mid-weight Insulation Jacket:  Consisting of a baffled parka and optional hood, these come in many shapes, sizes, and temperature ratings.  If you tend to get cold easily, opt for a slightly warmer and more substantial parka.
Fill Materials: Primaloft, down
Shell Materials: nylon, epic, eVent 

Fleece Gloves/Glove Liners:  These are the go-to’s while touring. They need to be dexterous and comfortable, but not necessarily very insulating.
Materials:  fleece, Powerstretch, or similar

Mid-weight Fleece/Schoeller/Leather Gloves: The most desirable glove is one that is comfortable and dexterous, so that it can be worn all day. It should feature leather palms to withstand ski edges, ice axes, and a bit of rope work. These come in different weights, so it’s best to choose a medium thickness.
Materials:  softshell, windstopper fleece, leather, or similar

Shell Gloves:  A waterproof modular shell sized to fit over your liner gloves, these will be worn during any cold/stormy weather and need to be dexterous enough to manipulate ski poles, buckles, carabiners, harnesses, and tie knots. The highest priority with these gloves is to keep your hands and liner gloves dry. 
Shell Materials:  Gore-tex, Schoeller 3x, or similar

Extra Beanie Hat/Toque:  A thick warm hat is crucial for keeping warm and it’s nice to have a dry one available when needed.
Materials: fleece, wool, windstopper, or similar

Extra Socks:  Bring a change.  Many people prefer to wear a very thin liner sock underneath a thicker sock. Adjust your sock system ahead of time to perfect your boot fit.  Materials:  wool, synthetic
Materials:  wool, synthetic

Lightweight Balaclava:  A balaclava is a warm hat that can be pulled over the head to the shoulders. It completely covers the head except for an opening for the face. It should provide excellent wind protection for the chin, ears, and neck and usually fits well under a helmet.
Materials: Powerstretch, fleece, polypro, windpro

Skiing and Riding Equipment

All the following items are available for rent or demo at the Bolton Valley Backcountry and Nordic Center.  We don’t require participants to carry avalanche gear, as we don’t have significant avalanche danger on our backcountry terrain.  However, we’re happy to answer any questions regarding avalanche safety gear and the use thereof.

Ski/Snowboard Boots:  Make sure your boots fit you snug enough for downhill performance but are comfortable enough to keep your toes warm.

Skis/Splitboard:   You may choose to bring telemark, alpine touring skis, or a splitboard. Telemark skis must be equipped with full metal edges. If you use a cable binding, bring a spare cable. Alpine touring skis should use bindings that allow for forward and lateral release.

Climbing Skins:  Make sure the glue is tacky and that the skins are the correct width and length for the skis/board you will be using. Size these to cover the entire base, minus the edges.

Ski Poles:  Adjustable trekking poles with a full size basket are recommended. Traditional ski poles will also work. 

Ski Pack:  Your pack should fit well, move with you, and not be a major hindrance when downhill skiing. Choose a model with ice axe loops and straps to carry your skis easily.   For day trips, a small pack (32L) is a good size, while 45L packs are better for long (multi-day) tours. 

Other Essentials 

This is a suggested list for any backcountry tour.  It’s not necessary to have all of these things in your pack when taking a guided tour or clinic here at Bolton, but it would be wrong not to include them in a list of things to bring into the backcountry with you.

Food:  You are responsible for bringing your own food and snacks on any tours.  Think light and packed with calories.

Hydration: 1 liter of water capacity minimum. A solid 32oz water bottles, like a one-quart Nalgene, is strongly encouraged. Hydration bladders are appropriate for spring, when daytime temps are above freezing; in winter, even insulated hoses will freeze.

Water Bottle Parkas:  These insulating jackets are for your water bottles to help prevent freezing.  Bring one for each bottle.  Not required for spring courses.  

Ski Goggles:  For use in high winds and heavy snow.  If you wear prescription glasses, these must fit comfortably over your glasses.   Good venting is crucial.

Hand/Foot Warmers:  Recommended for people that are susceptible to cold hands and toes.  These should be small, disposable type products like the ones made by “Grabber Mycoal”.

Gaiters:  Depending on the fit of your pants to the boot, gaiters may be necessary to keep snow out.