Category Archives: gear

Outdoor Labs: Dean Cummings Talks About H2O Skis

Dean Cummings H2O heli skiingUS Ski Team member, winner of the 1995 World Extreme Skiing Ski Championship, ‘hundreds of ski mountaineering first descents’, appeared in 43 ski vids, and ‘playing a vital role in the success of pioneering Alaska helicopter skiing‘…

‘One of the 48 Most Influential Skiers of Our Time’ -Powder Magazine.

Yeah, I believe I’ll sit and listen to what this cat has to say about his skis.

Horns up to the Ripper Dave Schipper of Outdoor Labs for the heads up on the latest project in Dean’s lifelong devotion to skiing. About 5 months ago [my bad]. Looking forward to hearing what you think about ’em. New website’s sick.

The Rock Starr Splitty

After 17 years of shreddin’ the peaks surrounding our fair valley, the Rock Starr may no longer be in Chamonix but that doesn’t mean he’s given up on livin’ the dream. No sirree. In his signature style he gives the down low on making your own split board.

Make Your Own Splittie by the Rock Starr Jonny Barr

After years of snowshoeing around the alps as a snowboarder it was time for a change. I’d sold this idea to punters over 10 years ago when Zero G got some of the first Burton split boards in Europe to test. I went out with a good hiking buddy and to our surprise broke both the set-ups within 20 minutes of hiking up the GM. This was enough to keep the snowshoes from getting dusty and not touching this kinda set up until it was fully sorted. But all them years ago  a small Canadian company by the name of Voilé were developing a product which has not changed to this day. All it has done is fine tune its range of boards for all shapes and sizes of backcountry snowboarders.

Splitboarding has now had a large amount of media and film footage thanks to snowboarding legend Jeremy Jones. By producing a movie called Deeper he has opened many people’s eyes to this style of backcountry riding. This is what got me thinking about this great idea once again and looking closer into how I can save money on sorting out a sick backcountry set up … by splitting my own board.

It’s not cheap by any means: Voilé sell a split kit for around £150, the skins are about £120 and to top that off you need the crampons which are about £80. Don’t forget a board which is not a load of crap as it’s going to get you down some of the best powder you can get your beady eyes on, plus it needs to be able to soak up some juicy cliff drops as well.

Once you have got the Voilé split-kit and board, read the instructions and get your DIY head on. If you’re all a bit clueless you can go on YouTube and find out how the pros split a board, to give you peace of mind. I went out and got a £9 ripsaw from Tesco’s super store and had most of the other bits in my tool kit.  The only thing I didn’t have was some sort of glue and varnish to seal the cut edge and holes in the board. I used yacht varnish rather than glue, as it’s one of the best water repellents around plus it only cost me £4.50 for a wee tin and £3.99 for araldite glue for the T-bolt holes.

Touring template

And for God’s sake wear some goggles when cutting the board! The fibreglass in the top sheet of your board goes every where when you’re cutting it, so be warned. It can really mess with your eyes if you’re not careful and you need to see them lines you’re going to drop. So make sure they’re covered – your snowboarding goggles will work a treat.

Once the board is cut get the instructions out again and follow it step by step. Sticking the stickers, taking measurements, drilling holes and plenty cups of tea should see you right. In about two hours your board should be looking like an off piste backcountry touring machine.

When you’re done don’t forget to varnish the cut edge and glue your base drilled holes. Let this set and go and get a map out and start looking out your first day of touring. I didn’t venture too far and only toured up pistes as I wanted to get used to the system. Plus, I also wanted to see how the board handled. There was no bother with that, as I was cruising the pistes and riding fakie with ease.

If you want to bling your ride like I did you can  go out and get some Spark R&D bindings. They are CNC machine-cut, super-light binders that sit real low to the board. I found that the Voilé plate with normal bindings was almost 2cm off the deck and made riding feel a bit strange. Plus the overall weight was quite a difference.

If you’re not sure about making your own splittie, then by all means go and buy a split board. Just make sure you have a phat wallet, as you’re looking at almost £1000 for a complete set up.

The Maiden Voyage: Ben Macdui

The mission for my first real split board adventure was Ben Macdui, which at 1309 meters is Scotland’s second highest peak. This sits off the back of Cairngorm mountain, which is where there are ski lifts and the UK’s highest mountain terrain.

Top of the Ptarmigan

To save on time I  took the train (as I have a season pass) and headed up to the summit of Cairngorm (1245 m), which is a further 150 meters up from the trains’ stopping point at the Ptarmigan restaurant. After splitting my board and sorting out my bindings, I soon got some funny looks and questions from folk who were baffled on my splitting of a board and oversized skis!  “What’s that, a snowboard? And it goes uphill?”

Pulling out my big phat skins made me feel the urge, as I know that it’s going to be a real novelty, more than the good old snowshoes. Wow what a difference. It’s comfy and you can get into a real good pace without flicking snow everywhere and sinking into the soft stuff. This can be a big issue with snowshoes and saps a lot of your energy. I picked a cracking day as there was not a cloud in the sky, making this whole deal feel bloody amazing. I like to call this the Cairngorm Alps, when the weather is having it, it really is a sight to see when you reach the summit and look out over the Scottish Highlands.

Cairngorm summit weather station

After taking some  photos at the top of the weather station, I slotted my skis together and set my shred sled up for a 250-meter rip down the back side of the Cairngorm. To my joy I found some powder pockets that really gave my board a run for its money. I soon had to stop having fun, and set my board back into touring mode, due to starting my next mission, “The Cairngorm plateau”. This is a long rolling snow plateau which leads up to the foot of Ben Macdui. I had real fun on this part of the route due to having to ski down some small downhill bits where I felt there was no need to set the board up. HAHA, what a giggle! You have no edges with the skins on, and with mixed soft hard snow, made for a real epic of holding on for dear life. I have to say it beats running downhill with snowshoes on. That’s a real hard one when you have your board and all your gear on your back.

I soon got into a good pace once again and to my surprise caught up with some ski tourers. They had a chat to me about my set up and told me about a young lad they met some years back. He couldn’t get his board back together after touring for about two hours out in the high French Alps. This didn’t faze me as I knew my set up was bombproof, so just carried on up the plateau, to the foot of the Ben. At about 25 degrees I zigzag my way up about 300 meters to another small plateau before reaching the summit of Ben Macdui, 1309 meters. This felt great as the weather was still showing its true glory and giving me butterflies in my tummy.

After spotting some lines for the future, more pics and a bite to eat, I headed off back down the same way I hiked. This was a mix of soft and hard snow but offered some great turns before I straightlined as much of the rolling plateau as possible. I toured back up the backside of Cairn Lochan, this is the top out to some famous climbs and a bowled out craggy area called Coire an Lochain and Coire an t-Sneachda. As I climbed a bit more I looked back on to the Ben Macdui and smiled. I had climbed it on my handmade split-board and lived to tell the tale… Stoked! I still had some more riding down the Coire Cas to the carpark to do, before my day was up. But for all its worth, split-boarding is the future if you need to get out backcountry for your snowboarding fix.

When touring out in Scotland the weather can turn so quickly, which it’s famous for. Make sure you have some knowledge of where you’re going by planning your route and descent beforehand. Carry a map, compass and take mental notes of features as you move along your route. Pack all your backcountry gear, food and extra warm clothing in case of the worst. Enjoy!”

The Rock Starr Jonny Barr

And if you find yourself in Jonny’s neck o’ the woods next weekend check out the snow-slidin’ extravaganza he’s been putting on for the past five years…

White Chamonix / Black Weekend

‘Nuff said.

Gear-O-Licious: Columbia Omni-Heat / Omni-Dry

Columbia 2011/12 Omni-Heat / Omni-Dry / Omni-Tastic!

Full disclosure: For those who don’t already know, I’m writing a blog for Columbia Europe called And while running a product review for a brand for whom I’m working may seem like a conflict of interest, ChamonixInsider readers can rest assured that I would never jeopardize the credibility of the Insider by spewing about some product I don’t fully believe in. And after testing some of the Columbia gear I’m blown away by how good it is and would feel like I was not upholding the mission of this blog if I didn’t tell you all about it.

So yeah, the Columbia crew in Geneva sent me out a new piece from their 2011/12 line and after skiing it for the past two months I am totally in love with it. The jacket is one of Columbia’s top-of-the-line Titanium series and features their Interchange system which pairs a lightweight, synthetic down inner with a lightweight, 2-layer, waterproof/breathable ripstop hardshell. Basically three jackets in one, which is nothing new but always surprising that more brands don’t do it.

There are a lot of reasons this jacket blows my hair back but first and foremost is this Omni-Heat story, which in this piece revolves around Thermal Reflective technology derived from the little silver dots in the lining of the insulating layer. These act in the same way as an emergency blanket which produces a phenomenal amount of warmth to weight by reflecting body heat. Columbia claim the technology is 20% warmer and after wearing it for the past few months I’m convinced that 20% warmer is on the conservative side. The insulating power of this stuff is amazing.

The Inner – I’ve been wearing the inner on its own quite a lot and have found that it’s not only lighter but also much warmer than the Patagonia Puffball I’ve worn for the past couple of years. It’s also more fitted than the Puffball yet retains its range of movement thanks to the stretch panels under the arms. Two zipped handwarmer pockets, an interior chest pocket and an over-sized mesh interior pocket, elastic drawcord at the waist, micro-fleece collar. Everything you need, nothing you don’t, very warm, great fit, I love the color, super lightweight. Perfect.

The Outer – Due to the warmth of the inner, the outer layer has spent more time in my pack than on my body, however as spring rolls around I’ll start wearing the outer without the inner as I did this past weekend at the Otavalo Telemark Festival when a warm wet snow was falling in Les Houches and everyone’s jackets were soaking wet except mine. I kid you not. It was warm enough that despite the snow I only wore the Columbia outer over a lightweight Helly-Hansen synthetic base layer and never felt cold throughout the day. In fact, throughout most of the day I had my pit zips either halfway or fully open. Like I said: warm, wet snow.

Columbia claims its Omni-Dry technology is more air-permeable than Gore-Tex but once again, that’s an easy claim to make these days. What I will say is that even after a full day testing telemark gear by doing laps on the Prarion lift, my jacket and base layer were both still dry at the end of the day. The outer was so dry in fact that when I got back to the car I just shook the water droplets off and pulled the insulated liner on over the outer. I’ve had well over 20 years experience with Gore-Tex in every condition imaginable and in the wet-snow/high-aerobic conditions at Les Houches that day the Omni-Dry technology performed at least as well, if not better, than any other waterproof/breathable product I’ve ever worn. And man, I’ve worn a lot.

The outer has a waterproof front zip, mesh lining, removable powder skirt, removable hood, pit zips, two hidden-zip handwarmer pockets, a hidden-zip chest pocket, interior chest pocket and a big mesh interior goggle pocket. The lightweight ripstop fabric is slightly brushed for a nice hand, although it’s a bit louder than what I’m used to but then again it’s been awhile since I wore a true hardshell so perhaps I’m just not used to it. There are rubberized reinforcement patches on the shoulders and at the bottom sides that clearly add to the weight but they will greatly prolong the life of the jacket. Years ago I received a 3-layer Gore-Tex Middle Triple jacket from The North Face, the weight and design of which was ground-breaking at the time. After the third day of wearing it I noticed that the edge of my snowboard had shredded the lightweight fabric exactly in the spot where Columbia has placed the reinforcement at the bottom of the sides. So while weight is important to me, it can’t come at the expense of functionality so, for me personally, I’ll gladly trade the few additional grams of reinforcement for increased longevity.

So there you have it. Bottom Line is that the Omni-Heat Thermal Reflective tehcnology is amazingly warm and Omni-Dry far exceeded my expectations for both waterproofness and breathability. When I find out what this jacket will retail for next autumn I’ll let you know but for now I’ll easily throw it two-handed overhead horns.

Chamonix Gear Guide: Jones Hovercraft

Neil McNab product testing. Photo by Jez Wilson.

Neil McNab is the consummate mountain man: mountain guide, badass climber, talented author, and a big mountain destroyer whether on skis or on his snow-sliding device of choice, a snowboard.

Over the many years he’s been out there shreddin’ the rad, he’s had more than a few boards beneath his feet and he’s come to know the subtle differences between what works and what doesn’t. So when I read the following review on his McNab Snowboarding blog it made me realize that the Jones Hovercraft is not just another cookie cutter snowboard. And what’s really surprising is that the board only comes in a 156cm and is recommended for riders weighing less than 65 kilos. What?! Neil is well over six feet and I’d say he’s carrying at least 85-90 kilos. Just sayin’, don’t let the girly length of this board push you away until you’ve tried it.

Date: 22/12/2010

Oh my God!Just back from a days charging steep and deep in the trees at Courmayeur on my new Jones Hovercraft 156! 

I played around on this board a few days ago on hard pack and crud and it felt amazing. It carves like a big gun with the turn-ability of a 156!

I was pretty impressed.

Today, however, (the last day of my first course the 3 day tech clinic) I rode the Hovercraft in fresh untracked (and tracked) steep and deep powder in the trees in Courmayeur and I was just blown away!

I don’t think I have ever ridden like that before. The speed and manoeuvre-ability through the tight trees was amazing. The stability in the powder, down pillow lines, drops, anything I could throw it at it just handled like nothing else I have ever ridden.

I seriously don’t think snowboarding has ever felt that good and been that much fun!

I feel reborn!

For sure, check out the Jones Hovercraft!

This is a pure freeride board, not a one trick pony like the Burton fish or a swallow, this board can carve it up with the best on the hard pack, steep ice and blasts through the chop. In powder its simply comes into its own, its like standing on a big gun, floating on air and then you just tilt your front foot, slam the power into the tail and it changes direction like f**kin road runner, release the tail and it charges back into the fall line as you disappear into the wave of snow kicked up from your edge.

For me today is what snowboarding is all about, riding with a great crew who are all going for it and eager to learn, having a good laugh in the process and riding some amazing snow. As a bonus, Courmayeur was pretty much deserted except for a few other Chamonix guides skiing with clients.

Well done to the guys this week, they have worked hard, improved loads and reaped the rewards.

Nice one!

Looking forward to trying the Jones Flagships 163 and 168 which should arrive Friday.

All is good in Chamonix!


Learn more about Neil and McNab Snowboarding by clicking here.

Neil McNab