24. January, 2014 ,

Freeriding with perfect gear: GORE-TEX® athlete Nico Zacek explains the hottest ski trends for the 2013/14 winter

The mountains shine with a fresh coat of white and induce a hankering for action amongst the snow. Yet real snow lovers are not drawn to pistes but to untouched powder snow. The trend is undeniably towards the backcountry”, confirms Nico Zacek. The German freeski veteran and longstanding GORE-TEX® athlete explains everything you need in order to have the most fun on the ultimate powder trip during the 2013/14 winter. 

Freedom has become an ever more important facet of skiing in recent years.
Whether off piste or in terrain parks, freeskiing is on everyone’s mind. The real mountain experience begins, however, when one is in a place beyond the reach of lifts. “Just being out there, amongts snow covered mountains is an indescribable experience”, explains Nico Zacek. As veteran of the freeski movement in Germany he’s had his fair share of powder experiences over the past decade. “Back then, Heli access was pretty much your only option if you wanted high performance on the descent”, Nico reminisces “but with the technological developments in equipment, a self powered ascent nowadays still allows for a fun filled descent. Many film crews use this method, even if just for environmental reasons.”  The real freeride feeling can be experienced in a safe manner by almost every level of skier, thanks to huge developments in equipment across the board.

Winter trends in skis, bindings and freeride boots: lighter equipment

The developments of wider freeride skis in the last few years have made deep powder skiing far easier; a pure enjoyment even for non-professionals. However, the extra width has added unwanted extra weight; a real pain to carry on the ascent. This problem has been eliminated! Through implementation of modern materials the next generation freeride skis are remarkably lighter. The best examples are the Völkl Katana V-Werks and the Carbon Megawatt from Black Diamond – through a unique carbon construction these powder skis are three quarters the weight. Coupled with modern freeride touring bindings like the Duke from Marker or the Tracker from Atomic, that combine the stability of a classic ski binding with the climbing function of touring bindings; a new light approach to backcountry freeride touring has developed.

“The development is truly impressive” Nico affirms. “I don’t notice the difference in performance when I am skiing at all. The ascent is so easy that I even appear to be in great mountaineering condition.” The perfect set up is usually rounded off with Freeride Boots that have the stability of traditional boots but also sport a flexible hiking mode. The importance of the freeride development is highlighted by K2 and Scott, two new producers of ski boots that have introduced the Pinnacle 130 and the Delirium FR 130 respectively as their top models in this segment.

Technical outerwear: more breathability and tougher material.

The most important thing when I am skiing is that I feel comfortable”,
explains Nico. Comfort derives primarily from the appropriate clothing. “When I feel warm and dry I can concentrate completely on riding. That should still be the case after a strenuous hike in a snow storm, because I don’t just ride on perfect blue bird days”. The enormous breakthrough in this domain was achieved with the new generation of GORE-TEX® Pro Materials. Already the gold standard in functional material in outdoor clothing since before the term even existed, GORE-TEX® Pro is now even more durable and breathable than previous materials. Naturally the water and wind proof abilities that are always associated GORE-TEX® remain as effective as ever.

The new GORE-TEX® Pro is utilized in many of the best brand’s top ski outerwear. “I love my Crusader Outfit by Sweet Protection” Nico Zacek is convinced of the effectiveness of the new material. “I wont wear anything else as the fit is perfect and the GORE-TEX® material works incredibly well”. However, many other companies have implemented the new material. The Explorair Outfit by Scott, which has individual cuts for men and women, the retro-futuristic Heli Overall by Peak Performance, the Resist 3L Gore Jacket by Quiksilver or the Trollveggen Jacket by Norrona for women perform incredibly well, even in the heaviest snow storm. Freeski legend JP Auclair wears the Outland GORE-TEX® Pro 3L Jacket by Armada whenever he tours throughout the European Alps.

Safety tools: Avalanche Airbag, transceiver, shovel, probe and helmets.

Even though fun is the priority, one should never forget that freeriding is a serious sport and moving in Alpine terrain during winter can have serious consequences. “Avalanche airbags are a massive development. Even though they are by no means a ‘get-home-free’ ticket and should only be considered an added safety measure, I feel much more comfortable with an Airbag strapped to my back” Nico explains. Even though avalanche airbag technology was developed almost a two decades ago by ABS®, the technology has recently become much more popular because of the marked improvement to the systems technology. This is in part due to the competing Snowpulse System from Mammut – and the implementation of various avalanche airbag systems in useful freeride backpacks from established companies like Dakine and Ortovox. New for the coming winter is the system by Black Diamond in cooperation with transceiver specialists Pieps, which doesn’t rely on gas cartridges to blow up the airbags, but on a turbine system.

Yet avalanche airbags are only a small part of the safety puzzle for freeride aficionados. “The most important things are: a complete avalanche gear set up of transceiver, shovel and probe; to know how to use the equipment, read the terrain, be aware of the conditions and to never travel alone in the backcountry” recommend Nico. “On top of that, wearing a helmet is a must for any skier!” The new MIPS system, which was developed by Swedish scientists and has been incorporated by a number of top helmet manufacturers, has made the use of helmets an even more effective precaution. It adds more safety to typical ski falls by absorbing impacts more effectively, particularly when helmets hit the snow on an angle. The Igniter MIPS by Sweet Protection and the Fornix Backcountry MIPS by POC both integrate the new MIPS technology. Crashes happen to everyone, even veteran professionals, and with this new helmet technology the risk of injury is far smaller. Of course one cannot eliminate all the dangers of freeriding, yet with the correct equipment one can definitely minimize the dangers of skiing off piste.