My Kit: Seven Essentials for The Sierra High Way

From Tahoe to Tioga Pass and all the way down California’s 395 to Mt. Whitney, it’s been a fat year in the Sierra. After a half decade of dismal snowfall, reservoirs are full again, valleys are green as pastures and most East Side couloirs now have passing lanes, pull-over spots and scenic overlooks. It hasn’t been this “in” since the early ’80s when Allan Bard, Chris Cox and Tom Carter pulled off firsts throughout the range, including the 200-mile Redline Traverse. While those three were on double-camber skis, three-pin bindings and leather boots, our gear is a little more accommodating: kind of wide, like the lines here today. Good thing, because I couldn’t carry their backpacks. I can, however, walk in their footsteps. Here’s what I’ve pulled in after a winter of testing to ski a portion of the Redline Traverse. —Adam Howard, Editorial Director

Beacon, shovel, whiskey: Check. [Photo] Mike Lorenz

Black Diamond Helio 88 Skis

To ski the 14ers along the part of the Redline Traverse we’re attempting, I need something both light and stout enough to support me and my 40-pound pack. The 178-cm Helios, at somewhere around three pounds per ski, have the light part covered. Yet unlike some super-fly options in this category, they have a sheet of what my drill says is titanal, at least underfoot. I found this ski incredibly maneuverable at this year’s Gear Test Week at Powder Mountain, Utah, even with the lightest of skimo-inspired boots. With the more substantial SCARPA Alien RS boots, I hope they’ll hold up to both my weight and any variable snow the Sierra throws my way. 123/88/112, 5.8 lbs. (178), $800

Scarpa Alien RS Boots

With a sample-size foot, I’ve become a “boot guy” at the test. All the more without rando-nerd and technical editor Lance Riek this year (he was in Italy). My process is simple: Start each day with a boot I know, then match another to it, then move up and down the scale; ebony and ivory, a different model on each foot. I own a pair of SCARPA F1s and find them exceptional at driving lighter skis in the mid-fat range, yet they give ground to my perennial favorite AT gun, Dynafit’s TLT6. Like with the TLT 6, my digital scale pegs the F1 at just shy of three pounds per boot. The Alien RS is more than a half-pound lighter per foot. And, head to head, it concedes very little performance to the F1. 99 mm last, 3.9 lbs. $1,000

Salomon MTN Bindings

I’d estimate nearly 90 percent of the skis at this year’s Gear Test were mounted with tech bindings. New models included the Salomon MTN and Atomic Backland—same binding, different colors, since Soly and Atomic are owned by the same parent company, Amer Sports. While we hear there was some Austrian input from Atomic, this binding was designed and manufactured in Annecy, France at Salomon’s design HQ. The MTN comes standard with three tuning-fork-like, horseshoe-shaped heel pins made from heat-treated steel for different release values and accommodates standard Dynafit ski crampons. 1.3 lbs., $575 (without brakes)

Black Diamond Cirque 45 Pack

I have five criteria for ski packs: 1. It has more than one ski-carry option. 2. It’s not overly complicated with bells and whistles. 3. It’s light. 4. It’s not ridiculously overpriced. 5. It fits well. At just more than two pounds, the Avalung-compatible Cirque is all of this. But with no lid (sold separately), this thing might not have enough options for packing, even with a huge hip-belt pouch. Even so, the ice-axe carry system is simple and makes the axe super easy to deploy in a hurry. In the end, criteria number 5 trumped all for me—BD packs just fit me really well. 2.3 lbs., 45 L, $200

Therm-a-Rest Altair HD Hiver Sleeping bag

At fewer than two and a half pounds, the Altair is rated for temperatures as low as 10° and offers a “relaxed fit.” I figure this should be good for my non-climber-type build. It’s 750-fill down is treated with a water-based Nikwax coating to “stay drier longer and get dryer quicker,” which could be key, considering we’re sleeping on snow beneath our Black Diamond Megamids. 2.4 lbs., $590

Therm-a-Rest NEOAir XTherm Sleeping Pad

I’ve used the Exped Downmat for years for its high R-value. The NEOAir, Therm-a-Rest contends, has a higher warmth-to-weight ratio; this thing is super light. And it’s designed to slide into the Altair’s SynergyLink Connectors to keep me from slipping off. 1.1 lbs., $200

Camp XCL Nanotech Crampons

I’ve always suffered the weight of Grivel’s G14 steel crampons for years. They’re just bomber. Full aluminum cramps are less reliable, especially for the mixed conditions we anticipate in the Sierra. But, for kicks, I’ve brought along Camp’s steel-tipped, aluminum-bodied crampons and ice tool. Theoretically, they’re the best of both worlds. 1.3 lbs., $200

The skis, boots, bindings and pack mentioned here won’t be available until this fall. Want to know how it tested? Subscribe now to get the Gear Guide, available in late summer.


  1. Adam,

    Did you mount the Helio 88s at BC or up 1cm? Do you like it at that location?

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