Monday, December 27, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
Pros: value, technical features, fit
Cons: thin fabric, no product reviews, unproven track record
I just bought a Helix jacket from Eastern Mountain Sports to serve as a lightweight shell for winter backpacking and skiing. Although I have not yet worn it outside the house I would like to share my first impressions on this gear.
EMS markets this jacket as their “technical backcountry shell” with 3 layer construction, 20k water proofing, waterproof zippers and two Napoleon style pockets designed to be accessible with a harness on. The Helix weighs in at just over 1 lb which is 2lbs lighter than my other shell! It normally retails for about $249 but is currently on sale for $199. You can get a Helix in greenish yellow, black or red. EMS.com has no product reviews for this gear, which seems odd, so I recommend checking it out in the store before buying.
This jacket looks like a minimalist mountaineering parka that belongs in the backcountry. It has plenty of features such as a helmet compatible hood, 2 exterior pockets, 2 interior pockets and a breathable fabric. However, it does not have any non essential features such as hand warmer pockets, a snow skirt or other sleeve pockets. This jacket has an athletic fit so I had to go up one size from what I usually wear; to allow enough room for insulating layers. Of course this jacket is not perfect. The fabric feels tough but looks a little thin. I look forward to seeing if this holds up in the backcountry. Also, the lack of product reviews also makes me wonder if this is selling poorly if it is just too new for a lot of feedback.
The Helix jacket appears to be exactly what I was looking for; a lightweight backcountry shell that gives me a few options when packing for my next trip. I can’t wait to provide a more in depth review once I use this jacket for its intended purpose. Please note EMS has given me no incentive to review this gear.
image from: http://www.ems.com
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Alpine skiing is expensive. Want proof? Skis can costs over $1,000 (without boots bindings or poles), 1 day lift tickets range $50-80 and you will also need to spend a few hundred dollars on clothing such as a jacket, pants, goggles and insulating layers. Unfortunately, there is nothing cheap about this sport. However there are a few things you can do to make skiing more affordable. Below are the top 5 things that have helped me avoid going broke while funding my skiing habit.
1. Join a Ski Club:
Ski club membership is one of the best ways to save money on the slopes. Clubs like the Connecticut Ski Council offer substantial lift ticket discounts to members. Their “Council Awareness Days” offer members discounts of almost 50% at different mountains throughout New England on every day of the season. In addition council members enjoy discounts at ski areas like Mount Snow. These discounts are great and they also make it affordable to visit a variety of mountains. Membership only costs $30 a year so it essentially pays for itself if you use it once. The Connecticut Ski Council also offers group trips, rental discounts and other ski related events. It really doesn’t make sense to not join a ski club unless you like to waste your money!
2. Lease Skis for the Season:
You can easily spend over $2,000 if you buy a set of skis, bindings, boots and poles. This might make sense if you are an advanced skier but it is not the best option for newer skiers. Many ski shops, such as Valley Bike and Ski Werks , will lease skis for the entire season for about $119. This is a great value since many ski areas will charge $40 just for 1 day ski rentals. Also, renting from the ski area forces you to wait in line and get fit for rental skis each time you go skiing; not fun! A season lease allows you to use the same ski setup all season which helps you become a better skier. Oh yeah, Valley Bike and Ski Werks gave me a free 1 day pass to Berkshire East with my lease which saves another $50 that I would have spent on a lift ticket.
3. Don’t Pay Retail:
If you want to avoid frostbite then you will need a ski jacket, pants, insulating layer, base layer, socks, gloves, goggles and a helmet. This can easily cost several hundred dollars at full retail. Thankfully you have other options! Well known outdoor retailers like Eastern Mountain Sports and REI regularly have sales on almost all of the gear you’ll need. Be sure to get on their email lists to stay in the loop on these deals. Online retailers like Backcountry.com also offer regular sales on high end gear. Backcotunry.com also has a Backcountry Outlet section on its site where you can save up to 70% on gear. Additionally, many ski shops have end of season sales where you can stock up for next season at steep discounts. Lastly, Ebay can be a great place to score new gear at low prices; this is how I got my skiing jacket.
4. Ski Local:
If you live in New England then you live near a ski area of some sort. However, many of us regularly drive for hours to go to big mountains like Killington. Depending on your trip distance and gas mileage, this could easily add another $50 in transportation costs just to get to the mountain. Skiing local will save hours of your time and hundreds of your dollars throughout the season. It will also keep your dollars in your community but that is a topic for another article. Your local mountain might not have the sickest descents or hundreds of trails but it will let you save money and spend more time skiing.
5. Know the Snow:
Check the snow conditions at your desired ski area before you get in the car. How does this save you money? If you buy a lift ticket only to find poor conditions or few open trails then you are wasting money. Sites like Onthesnow.com provide up to date information on every ski area in the country. You can check base depth, % of open trails, reviews, and weather before you go. This helps you choose the ski area which will give you the best value.
Hopefully these tips help make skiing at least slightly more affordable. Ski safe.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Almost every hike in the past few months has led to a view of Mount Carrigain which drove me nuts. Why? I am working to hike all of New Hampshire’s 48 4000 foot mountains and Mount Carrigain just so happened to be 1 of 2 left on my list. I finally climbed it on the last weekend in November which made for a great hike that also narrowed my list down to 1.
Mount Carrigain can be approached from a couple of directions but we chose to attack it via the Signal Ridge Trail which is the most popular option. This trail starts on Sawyer River Road near Hart’s Location, NH. Please note that the road is closed in the winter which adds 2 miles (each way) to this trip. When the road is open, the Signal Ridge Trail is a 10 mile out and back trip that packs all of the climbing into the second half.
We arrived at the trail head to find temperatures in the 20s with a light coating of snow on the ground; perfect conditions for a late fall hike. I was also surprised that there were only 2 or 3 other cars in the parking lot which is well below average for most trail heads in the whites. That was fine by me as we basically had the trail to ourselves.
The Signal Ridge trail almost immediately leads to a stream crossing where trekking poles where very helpful for crossing. After that the trail seems to follow an old rail bed for about 1.7 very flat miles. We came to a well marked junction with the Carrigain Notch Trail at mile 1.7 and continued left on the Signal Ridge Trail. The trail remains flat for almost another mile and then the climbing begins. From this point the climbing is relentless with many long, steep and straight climbs. However, the climb is worth it when you emerge onto Signal Ridge. This is a short, but exposed section that provides views of the Carrigain summit along with hundreds of other nearby mountains and hills. This is the type of ridge you expect to only find at elevations of 5,000 feet or higher. After that, the trail dips back in the woods and climbs for about half a mile to the Mount Carrigain summit.
Mount Carrigain’s summit is semi wooded but it does have a fire tower which you can climb for some of best 360 degree views available in New England. Be prepared for a drastic temperature drop and high winds if you choose to climb the tower. At this point I was pretty psyched to be standing on my 47th New Hampshire 4000 footer. To get back, simply retrace your steps on the Signal Ridge Trail. We put on our Microspikes for a little enhanced traction on the descent. The return trip provides another view from the Signal Ridge followed by a relentless descent and a flat couple of miles back to the trail head.
We only saw a handful of people on the trail which is low even for winter in the whites. I highly recommend that you check out Mount Carrigain for some of the best views with the fewest crowds in the whites! Just be advised that it is winter up there so pack accordingly! Now it is on the Owls Head to complete my 48!
Check out Summit Post for more info on hiking Mount Carrigain
Friday, December 3, 2010
If you ever go outside or near large windows then you need sunglasses. Without them, UV rays and glare can obstruct your vision and damage your eyes. Wearing sunglasses is a no brainer but which ones should you get? You can spend between $10-500 and a quick search on Zappos.com yields over 2000 sunglasses options. I did my research, bought some Oakley Straight Jackets and can honestly say that they are the best sunglasses I have ever owned. Are these the right glasses for you? Check out my review below to find out.
I started my search by looking for a pair of glasses that would work for cycling, running, hiking, and casual use which narrowed down the choice to a few hundred pairs. Then I saw the Oakley Straight Jackets, was blown away by the style/ features and pulled the trigger. According to Oakley, the Straight Jackets have a Hydrophobic coating that supposedly repels rain and dust, High Definition Optics, impact resistant lenses, and Unobtanium that increases grip as you sweat. Those are all nice sounding words but it is all about performance right?
I ordered my Straight Jackets from Zappos.com and got them in about 2 days. My first reaction was that these glasses looked cool. But it is all about performance so I immediately went to a trail run with them. The fit is extremely comfortable and the glasses really do seem to stay in place as you sweat. However, the lenses are really what make these glasses worth it. The lens quality and clarity is simply amazing. I also had no issues with fogging whether I was running, cycling, or hiking.
Oakley has given me no incentive to recommend their products. I recommend that you check out Oakley’s Straight Jackets simply because they are the best glasses I have ever worn. However, everyone’s face is different so make sure they work for you. Also, the price, $180 for a polarized pair, is a little steep. However it seems that Oakley backs up their pricing and marketing with an unbeatable pair of sunglasses.
Image used from Google Products