Two weeks ago I wrote this article encouraging people to work on their own equipment. I explained how tweaking and repairing my ski gear adds to my overall experience as a skier. But it seemed like it was worth sharing some of the work I actually do, beyond the obvious things like waxing my skis or mounting my bindings.
So here are some easy things you can do, at home, with simple tools, to make your equipment work a little better. Sure, it would probably work best as a flashy youtube video with a clickbait title, but all the little efficiencies add up. Are these adjustments really important? No. Are they a little anal retentive? Maybe. Do they make skiing easier and more fun for me? Yes! Let me know what your favorite gear hacks or mods are in the comments.
Because I’m a product of this site (literally, I was reading NS before turning on skis), I like my poles a little shorter than average for descents. I came of age in the age of kids’ bowling suits and sticks. I like short poles to get down. But I’m tall and I also really like walking uphill. So I always ski with adjustable poles. I make my poles as long as possible for the top, then lower them to about 125cm for the bottom. But most adjustable poles are much shorter than 125cm, so I found I spent a little longer each time I went downhill, making sure both poles were the same length.
To finish. I just put a single wrap of electrical tape just below the 125cm mark on both poles. This means that when I shorten my poles to go down I don’t have to watch the measurements, I just push them until they hit the tape and stop. It took 30 seconds to add the tape, and it saves me at least that much time every time I shoot.
I also like to stock 6 feet of Gorilla Tape and an extra ski strap wrapped around each pole, just in case.
I’ve spent much of my life on skis behind the camera, which means I wear and take off my gloves often. I also prefer to ski in mittens, so I need hand dexterity without gloves for a lot of tasks. So glove leashes are my best friend. I really don’t understand why not everyone uses them. Taking off your gloves and putting them in the snow, or trying to jam them in a pocket always ends badly. You can make your own glove leases out of paracord or buy them online for about $5 a set. I add them to everything from Kinco mitts to my lightweight mitts I wear. I love taking the gloves off and knowing they’re not going anywhere.
And if your gloves don’t have a loop to attach the leash to, it’s easy to install an eyelet so you can do so. My $12 eyelet tool from Amazon is widely used for modifying bike gear.
More and more brands are including specially designed beacon pockets on their pants and bibs. I am completely in the “Beacon in my pocket, not on a chest harness” camp. It allows me to carry the tag more securely, I don’t have to take it off to adjust layers, it makes it easier to separate from other electronics for interference, and it’s more accessible. However, in the past few years, I’ve had a few pairs of pants that I really liked that didn’t have beacon-specific pockets.
There are three things that make a pocket beacon unique. The first is easy: it must be zipped. No velcro or snaps. It must also be an inside pocket. The pocket “bag” must be welded or sewn inside the pants. It cannot be a cargo pocket on the outside of the pants. Most ski pants with hand pockets meet these requirements. The third is a little more complicated: it must have an anchor point for the lanyard of your beacon. This is important because in the excitement of an avalanche search it is easy to drop and lose your beacon. The lanyard makes sure that doesn’t happen.
Specially designed pants will often have a small plastic clip in which to hook your cord. But, if your pants have an inside zip pocket, without a clip, it’s easy to make your own. You can get plastic or metal O-rings at any hardware store, then sew or rivet them inside the pocket you want to use. Make sure it is a solid connection, the goal is for the connection between the transceiver and the cord to fail before the connection between the cord and the pants fails. Boom, you have a beacon pocket.
I’m sure I’ll get some flak in the comments for suggesting this change, but it’s simple, and it’s really easy to create a stronger connection that pants designers incorporate.
This one is a little weird, but it worked fine for me. I hate when snow builds up on my bindings making it hard to click or unclip. There are fancy sprays with questionable science to back them up, designed to repel snow. Or you can just grab some of that extra virgin olive oil you cook with and use a paper towel to wipe it up in the problem areas. It works well, it’s free, and now your skis smell like focaccia bread. Or you can use Pam cooking spray, but my wife doesn’t believe in it, so it’s olive oil for me.
One of the best ways to improve the skiing of your hiking boots is with some kind of aftermarket power strap. And one of the best ways to improve the transition of your hiking boots is to get rid of the complicated cuff buckles and replace them with something faster. So you can kill two birds with one stone by replacing your current power strap and cuff loop with something like Roxa’s Strabuckle top. I really like this thing. It works well on Roxa’s boots and other boots as well. I successfully replaced the top buckle and webbing on the Scarpa Maestrales and Ascendants Full Tilt (or K2 now) with the Roxa Strabuckle, with no noticeable loss in ski performance. And now it’s a smooth motion to open or close the top of your boot during transition, instead of having to adjust a Velcro strap and tighten a traditional buckle. It’s just better. Steal the part from some old R3s or call a Roxa dealer and have them order it for you. It’s simple, it’s lightweight, and it works really, really well.
As I mentioned above, I like to ski in mittens. But that means it can be difficult to get to pit pockets or zippers without removing them. My solution was to add oversized zipper pulls to my gear. I use repurposed friendship bracelets, but paracord loops work well too. I have these oversized jumpers on the key pockets and my vents. They’re easy to grip, even when it’s windy and I’m wearing thick gloves, and they make it easy to get to important gear or open or close vents. It costs nothing and takes very little time to add these mods to your gear, and it makes every day on the mountain a little easier.
I use my phone a lot while skiing. I catch clips with it, I sail with it, and in an emergency it’s my lifeline. But phone batteries don’t perform well in the cold, and the electrical signals they emit can interfere with beacons. That’s why I’ve built specialized phone pockets into my favorite pairs of bibs.
The cheapest route is to use duct tape to combine cut-out pieces of a reflective survival blanket and a foam can koozie to create an insulated nest for your phone that you can then sew or glue into your pants. Be sure to install it in a pocket that will be at least 20cm from your transceiver when sending, and at least 50cm when searching.
You can also buy a more specialized product, like a Phoozy, and sew it in your pocket, or buy a phone faraday cage. Whichever route you take, you’ll be surprised how much better your battery life is if you can keep your phone isolated.
None of these gear modifications take more than a few minutes to do, they are perfect activities to kill time while waiting for the snow to fall. But all of them made my ski days a little more efficient. So let me know, what do you like to do with your gear to make it truly yours?