Enlightenment – Step 1

| December 22, 2010

The process of reducing my total backcountry skiing equipment weight is harder than it seems. First, there are times when I definitely DO want the full-monty of safety gear and creature comforts, but it is hard to say exactly when that is.  For instance, during the past few days the avalanche danger in the Wasatch has been High, but instead of needing more safety gear, I prefer to ski low angle terrain and do safe, exploratory tours instead of steeper skiing.  Conversely, when the avalanche danger is low or moderate, I might ski steeper, more exposed terrain, but then there is less avalanche risk, so perhaps I don’t need all the extra gear then either..?  Hard to say.

Rather than constantly shuffling gear between packs, I’m putting together two completely separate and different packs – a light one and a heavy one.  May the best pack win.  ;)  The light pack will have a minimal amount of gear, water and food, and will be outfitted for a day of backcountry skiing in the Wasatch, where if you get cold or hurt, you ski ten minutes back to your car and go home.

In the name of weight savings I’m willing to sacrifice a degree of safety (down jacket vs. synthetic, no extra gloves, minimal 1st Aid Kit, etc.,) but there are a few items that are sacrosanct, namely a large shovel and pair of Whippets. I learned the value of a large shovel (G3 AviTech, Voile Telepro, etc) in 1993 when I tried to dig a buried friend out with a tiny mountaineering shovel, which was tragically frustrating.   As for the Whippets, if I could have them surgically implanted in my hands, I’d do it as I use them so often and in so many different ways.  For long mellow tours, I’ll occasionally use skinny little carbon-fiber pencil shaft poles with Nordic grips on them, but not that often.  Give me Whippets or give me death.

Whippets putting a smile on Dylan Freed's face.

Next up: the birth of the light pack.

Help support StraightChuter.com and put a smile on your face with a Black Diamond Whippet Self-Arrest Ski Pole from Backcountry.com. Click on the photo below…


Category: 02 Gear

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

Comments (9)

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  1. Scott says:

    Apparently I need some enlightenment on the pair of Whippets thing…..

    Can you list some of the many uses you have for them on typical Wasatch BC tours?

    Just can’t seem to see how the weight could possibly be justified unless you’re skiing steep, hard (ie not powder) snow.

    What am I missing?

  2. Andrew says:

    Scott – I use them for climbing as much as anything. You can also pull on trees, pull up Dynafit toe pieces, clean snow/ice off of skins, stop falls, plunge them in the snow to keep your poles from sliding away in icy conditions and many other uses. Some friends once compiled a list of 100 uses of the Whippet, so it is really only limited by your imagination. I also really like them as I spend the majority of my skinning time with my hands on top of the pole in what has been described as a “cane” grip.

  3. dug says:

    “As for the Whippets, if I could have them surgically implanted in my hands, I’d do it”

    that could get really really awkward, i don’t care how understanding your wife is.

  4. catalin says:

    Hello, the Scarpa Maestrale boots are ok? Because I am thinking to buy them. They have 4 buckles and are light olso, I seen you have these boots. You can compare with the Dynafit Zzero 4 C-TF?

  5. Andrew says:

    Hi Catalin – I love the Maestrales and am very impressed with their fit, tourability and ski performance. I’m loyal to Scarpa as they fit my feet perfectly and I haven’t used anything but Scarpa’s for the last 18 years, so I can’t say how they compare to the Zzero, although I know many people who like those as well.

  6. Tim says:

    Hey Andrew, can you please tell your friends at Black Diamond that we Splitboarders could really use a 3 piece pole with Whippets. Maybe they secretly want us splitboarders to slide for life, but, I know myself and many others would buy a set. I’m sure it wouldn’t even be all that difficult for them to put together.

  7. jason says:


    You can make a 3 piece whippet with some some different pole section lowers from BD (Enduros, I believe).

  8. Jim says:

    Thanks so much for the technique tips. Better than all gear reviews.

  9. ty says:

    I too have a light in bounds pack and a heavy pack….my heavy set up has an avalung, extra layer and trauma kit, while the light pack doesn’t even have a shovel.

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