Steel is real

Then there was this.

Orange bike

Sometimes you don’t even plan the perfect thing, and it happens anyway. I didn’t mean to buy an orange bike. I didn’t need another bike, no matter what colour it was. But the orange bike crossed my path, and this little chromoly machine turned out to be one of the best things I ever bought. It’s now my every day commuter, my after-work trail ripper, my vacation companion when lock-up circumstances or transport are too insecure for the Banshee. The urban playground continues to expand, and I love every moment I spend on this bike.

Somewhere waiting for you. Go!

We’re so stupidly blessed here. Really, it’s silly. This absolute abundance of riches, summer and winter. I used to spend my years saving up the time and money for a brief week or two’s access to the place I’ve been lucky enough to call home for a decade.

The North Shore alone has enough bike trails to keep any serious biker happy for a lifetime. But there’s so much more that it’s almost criminal not to go out and explore. This summer, with a new bike raring to go, that was one of my goals. And so explore we did.

Galbraith

Galbraith, Washington. Incredibly fun trails that were the perfect mix of fun, flowy, jumpy and technical. Favourites: Atomic Dog, U-Line, SST.

Cat Lake views

Section 57 bridge

Section 57 switchbacks

Cat Lake. Section 57 is my new favourite trail, one of the most diverse I’ve ever ridden both for the riding and the landscape. Steep switchbacks, lush microvalleys, small jumps, fast rolling terrain, steep descents, log rides and bridges – it has absolutely everything.

Lorax trailhead

Bear Mountain on a baking day. Lorax was clearly cut from the same incredibly fun cloth as Asian Adonis; Super Bear was a Half Nelson-style joyride through the woods.

Riding the Sunshine CoastSprockids woodworkSprockids, on the day when for no reason at all I decided to change direction, put my bike on a ferry, and go ride on the Sunshine Coast for a while. Excellent flowy fun lower down the mountain transitioned to very steep technical riding on the upper trails, along with a godawful push up an abandoned skidder road to reach the top of Mount Elphinstone. There was probably a better way, but it made me happy regardless.

Hartland

Vancouver Island’s Hartland in the pouring, pouring rain.

Ah, this place we live in. It’s the best.

Full body armour

I do most of my mountain biking with people who are far, far better than me. This means I’m continually pushing myself, but generally feel pretty inadequate when it comes to my own abilities. I’m too much of a weekend warrior, at least these days, to be able to put the time into closing the gap. Mostly I just try to be grateful that my riding buddies are patient types who don’t mind waiting when I have to take the long route around a gnarly descent or crazy stunt.

This summer, though, I started to become more aware of my own progress over the past couple of years. Trails – admittedly not the most difficult trails – that had once seemed hard had definitely become easier, and I’d begun cleaning sections that I’d previously had to walk. The Banshee stepped my game up a notch, proving that it is to some degree about the bike.

Nonetheless, when my riding buddy J proposed we ride CBC, I was unsure. I am not even close to being a double black rider; I’m only just getting comfortable on (easier) blacks, and still fall off skinnies and woodwork with tiresome regularity. CBC? Really? But there was also a lure of adventure and challenge that I couldn’t resist, and so on a bright sunny morning I found myself at the trailhead in body armour and a full face helmet, ready (or not) for the spills to come.

CBC skinnyish woodworkThe night before, I’d dreamed my way through strange realms on the bike: shadowy fantasylands filled with ghosts and caverns, a dark Narnia that I’d find myself revisiting in my sleep before every big bike challenge over the summer. I’ve grown to love it, because it means that the day ahead is about going far out of my comfort zone and into wild new territory.

CBC started off surprisingly reasonably, with armoured berms leading into awkward rocky descents and drops. J and I took one section at a time, pausing when we needed to. He was the best person I could have asked to tackle my first double black with: patient, analytical, and confident without being fearless. Watching him break the trickier lines down step-by-step was helpful for me when I reached spots where I initially balked.

James on CBC

To my surprise, I ended up riding about 90% of the trail. I skipped a couple of the crazier drops and ladders, but got more and more comfortable on the janky rocks and woodwork that made up much of the route. J blew my mind by taking one look at the mad rollercoaster leading to the Millenium Log and riding it clean on his first attempt. I was actually sorry when the trail ended and we spilled out onto Pinch Flat Alley, where we rattled down over the loose rocks and back into sunshine on Cypress Bowl Road.

CBC woodwork

I had fully expected to walk most of CBC, especially after a series of bad choices on my first visit to Cypress a week before that had resulted in my ass being thoroughly handed to me on an eroded skidmark of a black trail. Being able to ride so much of it, albeit a bit slowly and awkwardly, was a huge confidence booster. It was also great watching J push his own limits on some of the sections; his technical riding is infinitely far ahead of mine, and he’d go on to bigger and better things almost immediately, but the trail had plenty to challenge us both.

Northern light

At the end of June I packed up my bike, flew to Whitehorse, and prepared to ride my first 24 hour mountain bike race under the midnight sun. The 24 Hours of Light is something I’ve been talking about for years; plans to ride with friends in 2014 fell through at the last minute. In 2015 I was there as a solo rider, ready for whatever the race might bring.

The first night was the captain’s briefing. I checked into a plain but clean and friendly motel in the centre of Whitehorse, reassembled my bike without too much difficulty, and then rode over to the Beringia Centre. We drank beer and ate pizza amid the mammoth skeletons, were given free pairs of giant souvenir underpants, and learned that laps ridden naked between 10pm and 6am counted double.  I left the centre at 10pm with my sunglasses still on, and went for a little detour through hoodoos, sandy singletrack and meadows full of wildflowers high above the city. It seemed strange to arrive back at the motel in full light, knowing that it was time to sleep in order to be ready for the 24 hours ahead.

10pm in the Yukon

I arrived a couple of hours ahead of the noon start the next morning, with plenty of time to set up my very minimalist campsite in the quiet camping zone (I wasn’t really planning on sleeping, so I had just bought a thermarest and a down jacket), lay out my food and water supplies, and chat to some of the other racers. It was a beautiful morning, with a light breeze shaking the trees and sunlight filtering between scattered clouds. As more people arrived the start area began to develop a carnival atmosphere, with swing bike races and a kids’ mini-course and crowds of family and friends gathering at the edge of the meadow.

Noon rolled around very quickly, and we parked our bikes by the fence and lined up in the starting corral on foot. When the countdown finally began we raced around the meadow in a Le-Mans style running start before grabbing our bikes, leaping on, and pedaling across the line.

24HoL  start line

It’s hard to describe the feeling of riding away down the doubletrack: full of energy and excitement, so eager to see the course ahead, and yet completely calm. For the next 24 hours, I had one task: to ride my bike. The world felt suddenly distilled and simple. It was an entirely different experience to setting out on a road race, where time and speed are of the essence. This was uncomplicated, unhurried, clear and beautiful.

The course was amazing. Just over 12km in length, it began with rooty, gently sloping singletrack through sunlit trees with trunks of ash and silver that eventually took us to a steep, switchbacking climb that led out onto a narrow bench with incredible views across the valley to the distant mountains on the other side. A steep, sandy descent on the far side quickly dumped the elevation in a grinning rush before leveling out into more beautiful singletrack through groves of spruce, with the odd tumbledown hut among the trees. The final stretch back to the start was wider, flatter, and very rooty.

24HoL course

I could have ridden those trails forever and never grown tired of them. Even at the very end, many many hours and pedal strokes later with sandpaper eyes and exhausted legs, it wasn’t hard to go out for a final lap because it was one more chance to ride the course before the clock ran down and I left the wild open landscapes of the north behind.

Early on, though, I rode in a haze of wonder that after all of the time and all of the imagining, the dream was finally real. The riders – around 200 in all – quickly spread out, with the team riders racing ahead while I reminded myself that there was a long way still to go and no-one to step in for me when I tired. I set an easy, steady pace, with plenty of time to take in the beautiful surroundings. I rode for a half-lap with a new friend from Whitehorse, then she stopped for a break and I fell back into the silence of the forest.

The bench, 24HoL course

Aside from brief pit stops to eat and refill my water, I kept going steadily for the first few laps. Then the race organizers fired up the barbecue, and the promise of something more tasty than granola bars lured me away from the course for a while. My legs had lost some of their early spring and I was bitterly regretting the fact that in my hasty departure I’d forgotten to switch up the rock hard seat that came on the Spitfire for something more comfortable, but after two very welcome smokies and a longer break I was ready to roll again.

As evening wore into night the light in the woods seemed suspended in some magical, golden state. In spite of the kilometres already behind me I felt like I could have kept riding in that light forever; it was as though time no longer existed, and it was just me and the bike and the trees and the singletrack winding ahead. All there had been, and all there would be. The climbs were getting harder, but were never so long that the promise of the views on the bench and the wild, laughing descent ahead wasn’t enough to keep my legs moving.

Naked tandem at 24HoL

As midnight neared the sky was still light but the sun had dipped below the trees, and the air was cooling rapidly. A fire was blazing in a pit near the start line and as I warmed my hands over it between laps, one of my new friends passed me a beer. Down on the course two naked riders set off on a tandem to cheers and hollers from the campground. One of my goals for the race was to ride a midnight lap, and I set out again as the countdown clock neared the halfway mark. The woods were darker now, and I was glad that I’d had twelve hours to get to know the course. A chill had sunk into the air and in spite of my tired legs I was glad to reach the climb, where I warmed up considerably.

Riding out onto the bench above the valley at midnight was one of the most incredible moments of the 24 hours. The sun was suspended on the horizon at the very end of the bench, a ball of red and gold beneath a darkening sky. I rode directly toward it through swirls of dust that riders ahead had left dancing and glowing in their wake. I didn’t realise that I was holding my breath until I finally swung away from the fiery sky and dropped back into the trees. It was more stunning than anything I could have dreamed.

Early hours at the 24HoL campground

I rode on for a while, then stopped for a quick catnap. The kindness of the strangers who had become friends had made my minimal campsite far more appealing; they’d added a down wrap and a comfy chair while I was out on the course. I hadn’t intended to sleep, just to take a longer break to let my legs recharge, but the down wrap was warm and cozy and my eyes drifted closed for a while. Opening them to find myself lying beneath shadowy trees and a twilight sky on the side of a mountain in the Yukon was strange and surreal. A deep chill had set in, but the lower reaches of the sky were glowing gently with the promise of a beautiful day to come.

In spite of the recharging effects of the catnap, my legs were feeling the hours and the distance. My remaining laps were much slower, with refueling stops for coffee in between and naked riders flying by me on the climbs in brief, surreal glimpses. Gradually the woods filled with light and warmth as the sun rose higher, and the start area started to bustle with people emerging from RVs and tents.

Dawn on the bench, 24HoL

On what I knew would be my final lap, I took my time and tried to soak it all in: the trees, the singletrack, the swooping rush of the Midtown Boogaloo compression, the valley soaking in the morning sunlight from the bench, and the laughter of the descent on the far side. Then a slow, slow pedal through the spruce groves, brief doubletrack, and high fives and hugs at the finish line. I chatted to other riders for a while then suddenly realised that my dust-caked legs were no longer willing to hold me upright, so I found a chair and slumped gratefully into it as the clock finally ran down to zero.

Someone handed me another beer, and I donated my remaining water supplies to the local bike club. My new Whitehorse friends performed one last act of kindness and arranged a ride back to town for me when I mentioned that I’d been planning to call another cab. But first, there was one final surprise left in an event that had been full of so many: I had placed second in the solo women’s category.

Solo women prizewinners, 24HoL

By the time I made it back to my motel the exhaustion had kicked in, but I was also starving hungry and caked in dust. I showered an impressive amount of dirt away, decamped to the motel restaurant where I devoured a burger the size of a rugby ball and a plate of fries that would have fed a small army, and then retired to my room where I passed out cold for the next few hours.

I knew that a 24 hour mountain bike race – especially one ridden under the midnight sun – was going to be one of the most memorable experiences I’d ever had on my bike. It exceeded my expectations beyond measure. The warmth and friendliness of everyone I met, the incredibly beautiful course, the strange and ever-changing northern light, the surreality of being passed in the night by riders wearing nothing but a helmet, bike shoes, and butterfly wings – it was everything I’d hoped and far more. As Robert Service said, there are strange things done in the midnight sun, especially at the 24 Hours of Light.

24 Hours of Light Tom_Patrick_Yukon_News

Photo credit to Tom Patrick of the Yukon News, who also provided a great write-up of the event.

Enter the Banshee

Some other things happened after last ski season ground to its miserable end, with changes on the work front that meant I have a lot less free time as I focus on learning and growing in other areas for a while. That’s okay; sometimes the unexpected opportunities that come calling make finding a compromise worthwhile.

So, how did the summer pan out? Well, when you don’t have as much time, you focus a lot more on making the most of the time you have. With that in mind, one of the things I realised early on was that it was time for a new bike. It wasn’t that I fell out of love with the Instinct, but my riding focus shifted quite noticeably away from the all-day adventure rides and into rapid-fire climbs and descents, with downhill skill-building the biggest challenge.

Banshee detail

I did my research (always a librarian at heart) and settled on a bike that’s way out of my league, but that will serve me well for years and years to come: a Banshee Spitfire. My bike stable has been pretty Rocky-centric over the past few years (with a brief Cannondale intrusion) but it felt like time to move to something new. And I really liked the idea of supporting a North Shore company, with bikes that were made for riding here.

Banshee - Born on the Shore

It wasn’t easy. The production run of small frames was short this year, and I tried every supplier in Vancouver, Squamish and Whistler without luck. Finally Cap’s in Richmond said they were able to get hold of a single raw frame, and I slapped a deposit on it as fast as I could. The shop staff convinced me to upgrade the suspension to the CC DB Inline shock, which hadn’t been on my radar – I’ve had no issues with the Float previously – but I figured since I was (for once) forking out for a brand-new bike, I might as well go all in. The final build looked lean, mean, and ready for anything.

Banshee - CC DB Inline shock

It’s important to start as you mean to go on, so I loaded the bike onto the car and headed for Half Nelson. It was unsurprisingly somewhat weightier than the Instinct on the climb, but the 1 x 11 drivechain didn’t make as much of a difference as I’d expected. Then I pointed the nose downhill, and set off on the best joyride of them all.

The bike was brand-new. I hadn’t dialed the suspension in, or adjusted to the very different geometry. On that first run I dropped two minutes from my usual Half Nelson time, and was in the air so much I wasn’t sure whether I was riding or flying. The DB shock was soft as butter, and the more compact, slacker geometry sent me dipping in and out of corners and riding high on the berms with shocking ease.

Spitfire in the woods

When you don’t have as much time, you make the most of the time you have. Suddenly the summer seemed full of a whole new kind of promise.

Out with a misadventure

It was the winter that began with a whimper, slumped into a coma, and ended with a misadventure. On what would turn out to be the final day, we set out with high hopes for Mount Baker’s Skyline Divide. After a brief moment of over-ambition on the access road when we almost sank the car in snow that was deeper than we expected, we found a safe parking spot and headed a short way up to the trailhead and a beautiful hike through a fairytale forest. A light breeze span snowflakes from the trees, and they glittered and sparkled in the sunlight like a reminder of better winters that had come before.

Skyline Divide trail

The snow cover on the lower half of the trail wasn’t great, and as we hauled our skis up half-exposed steps we all acknowledged that it might be a challenging exit. But then we came to open meadows where the snow was dense but thicker, and finally to the open ridge of the Divide where Shuksan hovered on the horizon and a series of progressively steeper drop-ins led to a huge, dreamy open bowl. The snow seemed very stable and we agreed that no pit was necessary, but we should ski one at a time for the first run.

Skyline Divide

It only took two turns for disaster to strike. I was fiddling with gear and had let the other three go slightly ahead, with M taking the first run. By the time I concluded my binding adjustment and joined them, M was down and clutching a knee a couple of hundred yards below us and D was on his way down to join him. J told me that M had fallen and was hurt, and that D was going to check things out.

After a few minutes of watching M rock back and forwards over his knee, I realised that we weren’t dealing with a trivial situation. This is a guy who’s tough as nails. Conscious that we hadn’t done any testing of the slope, I asked J to stay on the ridge and skied down to join D and M. A pale and shaky M explained that he’d hooked the back of his ski as he turned, and it had twisted his knee and he’d heard a pop as he went down. At that point I knew that our day as we’d planned it was over, and that whatever it had turned into was going to be long and hard.

J on the ridge

All three of us agreed that our initial priority had to be getting off the untested slope as soon as M felt he was able to move. D and I thought we were going to have to carry him, but he insisted that he could make it on his own if we were able to take his skis and backpack. One agonizing step at a time, he slowly and painfully crawl-hobbled back to the ridge. Once we were there he collapsed in the snow, and we began a proper assessment of our situation. M kept insisting he wanted us to ski at least one run before we began figuring out how to extract, but D and I were firm that the only remaining objective for the day was to get him down safely.

Blown knee hobble
We did a quick skills and equipment inventory. D was the best equipped to look at making a rescue sled from M’s skis; I had more first aid experience, particularly when it came to knee injuries. We had three decent first aid kits between us. J, unfortunately, didn’t have a first aid kid with him – a lapse that M would later note that he needed to address in trip requirements.

We pooled resources and I used adhesive bandage to strap M’s knee securely, and then used his ski skins, a powder leash and two triangular sling bandages to construct a splint that would hold the joint in place. With the splint secured he gingerly tried taking some weight on the leg and announced that he thought he could begin the walk down on his own. The snow was starting to soften in the midday warmth, and the seven kilometres between us and the car seemed like a very long way indeed.

Ski skin splint

It was a painful journey down. M was determined to make it under his own steam; the ski skin splint held together and gave his leg the stability it needed, but every now and then his foot would sink in the snow or he’d trip on a root or step and yell out in agony. J kept skiing far ahead until D finally told him he had to stay closer to the group in case we needed him. The snow was heavy and wet higher up and patchy and thin lower down, and even on skis it wasn’t an easy journey. M’s determination and courage was astounding, even as his pace grew slower and slower.

Eventually, amazingly, we reached the trailhead. At this point I went ahead to the car, which was only a few minutes down the road, and made sure it was open and ready for M to collapse in a seat as soon as he arrived. I shoveled ice into a plastic grocery bag so that he had a makeshift ice pack waiting. After that, it was just a case of speeding him back to the land of socialized medicine as fast as we could.

Wounded soldier

In retrospect, we did a lot of things right. We made sure we weren’t all on an untested slope at the same time. We prioritized getting off that slope. We overrode M when he wanted us to take a run before starting the extraction. We had the right mix of skills, experience and equipment to be able to deal with the injury and prepare for the eventuality that M might not be able to walk down on his own. And if the worst had happened, I was carrying a Delorme InReach that we could have used to activate a rescue.

We were also lucky. If M hadn’t been able to walk by himself and endure the pain that went along with that, the extraction would have been much longer and harder. And there were some lessons to be learned. J was really uncertain as to how to deal with the situation; we could have harnessed him better with some direct instruction early on. It was also not ideal that we had someone on the trip who wasn’t carrying even the most basic first aid supplies.

Overall, it felt like the right day to call time on a winter that fell so short of our hopes.

Journeyman Lodge review

In March we defied another round of skyrocketing freezing levels and headed out to Journeyman with our friends C and S to finally experience a night in a backcountry lodge. I was very hopeful that this would be my first trip in some time that didn’t begin with my skis on my back, but I was wrong.

Callaghan Country

Fortunately I was able to get my skins on well ahead of C, S and J, who were all on cross country skis. It was about 2km before we reached snow consistent enough for everyone to finally be able to gear up and begin sliding. Even in a low snow year, the trek out to the lodge was strenuous but very beautiful. The terrain was wide open until we reached Callaghan Lake, where we transitioned into rolling hills through a fairytale forest.

En route to Journeyman

We were all pretty tired by the time we’d covered the 15km to the lodge, and were grateful to trade our ski boots for cozy slippers (I was especially grateful, having done the full distance in hard shell AT boots) and sink into cozy couches. Outside, it unexpectedly began to snow lightly – the first snow I’d seen in weeks that hadn’t fallen as rain.

Journeyman

The food began arriving almost immediately, with trays of delicious appies filling the gap before dinner. Our luggage arrived by snowmobile shuttle very shortly after we did, with bottles of wine tucked away in our clothing. As well as the very comfortable communal lounge, which features a pool table, dart board, selection of games and a guitar, the lodge has a beautiful sauna situated a few minutes away on Madely Creek.

Journeyman sauna

We had a couple of hours to get cleaned up and chat to our fellow guests as they drifted in, and then it was time to head downstairs for a four course candlelit dinner. The food was proper apres-ski fuel, hearty and very good. Later we retired to the lounge for a few rounds of pool and Pictionary until the generator shut down and the lights went out at 10pm.

Journeyman at dawn

J and I woke early the next morning, and went for a walk in the frozen dawn. All around the lodge peaks soared into a sky so blue it dazzled the eyes: Hidden, Journeyman, Callaghan, Solitude. The volatile freezing level had left the snowpack bulletproof ice so I knew that none of it would be good skiing in current conditions, but the terrain was the kind that dreams are made from.

Solitude

We ate breakfast in an alcove looking out toward Solitude, and I couldn’t take my eyes from the mountains. S and I had an interesting conversation where I tried to explain this endless pull toward these empty landscapes that to him present as nothing but wilderness; for me, they are all possibility and potential. Under a cover of snow the mountain changes into a place where movement becomes fluid and flowing, where you’re no longer forced to take a single step at a time but free to fly across the surface of the world.

Leaving Journeyman

We set out early for the hike home; C took a snowmobile, S and J hiked, and I skinned and then skied down once we’d crested the ridge above Callaghan Lake. It was a beautiful trip spent in amazing surroundings and luxurious backcountry comfort, with the promise of so much incredible skiing on future visits. It was also a fine way to see out our time with C and S, who are off on a whole new adventure of their own for the next year. They’ve been great company on these mini-adventures, and we’ll miss them.

The winter that never was

We tried this winter, we really did. But it was a bleak year for the Pacific Northwest. I’ve lived here ten years now, and never seen anything like this.

Hiking

Driftwood descent

Dry times

There was one silver lining to the desperately high snowline: access. And particularly, access to Metal Dome. The Brandywine FSR melted out all the way to the top by early March, and suddenly we were able to drive to 800m and hike up to the col below the summit in just two hours from the car. We went back time and time again, scoring some of the best days in an otherwise forgettable season.

Metal Dome approach

Metal Dome descent

Metal Dome col

There were a couple of days of okay resort skiing at Whistler, with semi-decent snow and far too many people. There was a huge storm at Red Heather, the only one of the year that actually dumped right down to the highway, where I skied the only true powder outside of that first return to Metal Dome. There was a day out with a new backcountry skier that wasn’t particularly memorable for the snow, but where the group had to make some difficult decisions due to a split in comfort levels and experience and I learned a lot along the way. Mostly, though, there was a lot of hiking.

Hiatus

It’s been a while.

I lost heart this winter. We kept hoping the cycle would break, but it never did. When the clouds came, temperatures kept the precipitation liquid all the way up to 3,000m+.  When the temperatures fell, it stayed dry and all of that rain turned to bulletproof ice. We eked out a day here and a day there, but in the sad excuse for a winter that was 2014/15 the snowline never dropped.

Low snow

I’ve still got a few stories to tell – a write-up of an excellent stay at the Journeyman Lodge, and our first major backcountry injury and extraction – but really, when I spent more time carrying my skis on my back than I did with them on my feet, it wasn’t the most inspiring time.

However the biking has been quite excellent recently, so it’s time to get the show back on the road.

Raynaud’s vs. Chaval

As skiers, we’re constantly out in temperatures well below freezing. We often spend days at a time in places where there’s no source of external warmth, nowhere to hang out but on the snow. We learn strategies for staying warm, layering, using down insulation to stay toasty when we’re no longer generating heat through movement.

I’ve always felt the cold badly, and had serious difficulties keeping my extremities warm. So it wasn’t a big surprise when I was diagnosed with Raynaud’s a few years ago. It was, however, a huge problem: the circulation issues that I experience in my fingers and toes aren’t ever going to improve, and in fact will – and have – increase as I get older. And I’m a skier. I can’t have a condition that could, eventually, jeopardise my ability to spend time in the mountains.

I haven’t found the cold feet to be as serious an issue in the backcountry, where I’m warming up substantially on climbs rather than cooling down on a chairlift between runs, but over the past year or so the condition of my hands has become grim. Transitions, especially if I need to remove my gloves, are particularly hard. There’s a point where the cold in my fingers becomes incredibly painful, and promises a good case of the screaming barfies when they eventually start to thaw. Plus these repeated chillings to the point of intense pain can’t be doing me much good in the long term.

Over the past couple of seasons, I’ve tried many strategies for dealing with this. Hot pockets, better gloves, layered gloves, thermoses of hot tea, wild windmilling. Everything helps a little bit, but not really very much. And so I started to explore a possibility that I’d previously ruled out due to cost: heated gloves.

Chaval XRT

I have to admit, I was hesitant. Firstly because I’d read really mixed reviews of some of the products on the market, secondly because of the expense, and thirdly because it seemed…well, kind of wussy to be a backcountry skier with battery-powered warming gloves. But needs must, and my hands are not getting any better.

And this has been a gamechanger.

I’ve taken my Chaval-XRT gloves out every day since I got them, including one resort day. For the resort day they ran steadily from first chair to last, and my hands never started to feel chilled in spite of the bitter wind that whipped around us on the chair.

Conditions in the backcountry have been tremendously variable. On a couple of warmer days I thought I wasn’t going to need the gloves at all, but then got careless on the transitions and chilled my fingers badly. I put them on for the downhill, kept them on through the second transition back to touring mode, and kept the heat on until I’d warmed through fully from the climbing. Then I was  good to turn them off till the end of the next transition. This kind of intermittent warming worked really well; there was still lots of power in the gloves for the final run back to the car as darkness neared, but I was able to keep my hands at a good temperature throughout the day with minimal demand on the battery.

On the most brutally cold day so far this winter, they were amazing. At the end of our initial climb we stopped to dig a pit on a section of the ridge where the windchill was around -20, and as we took turns shoveling I grew colder and colder. By the time we ripped skins and switched to ride mode, my hands were blocks of ice. But once I’d turned on the gloves, it took just a few minutes for life to trickle back into them and by the end of the first descent, they were fine. This time I kept them on right through the climb up and subsequent runs. I was actually comfortable enough to be able to remove the gloves completely to fiddle with a couple of buckles at one point, knowing I could put them right back onto my chilled fingers. This level of performance is honestly something I wasn’t expecting.

The great things about these gloves: firstly, they’re really good gloves. On milder days when I don’t turn the heat on, they’re still better than the gloves I was using previously.

Secondly, the heat regulation is excellent. I was a little concerned that, unlike other models, they didn’t offer an option to adjust the temperature. But the heat delivered is perfect. It’s never particularly intense, so it doesn’t lead to undue sweating; it’s just a steady trickle through all four fingers and the thumb that keeps the fingers from ever getting too cold.

Chaval control buttons

Thirdly, they’re really easy to use. Hook the connectors together, and then all it takes is a simple press of one good-sized, well-positioned button to turn them on and another to pause them. Get home, uncouple the connectors, and plug one into the wall to charge and dry the gloves.

A couple of very small negatives: the thumb doesn’t stay quite as warm as the fingers. (Caveat: even the XS gloves are very slightly large on me; a snugger fit might address this.) And they are bulky. This doesn’t particularly bother me, and certainly isn’t a concern when they’re on the hands, but weight weenies or those with limited pack space might find it an issue.

However, these are tiny gripes. The main thing, for me, is that I’m finally spared torturous hand pain during my ski days. My only regret is that I let the cost put me off getting these for a couple of seasons. If I’d known how much difference they would make, I would have gotten a pair much sooner.

Chaval gloves above Callaghan