More snow is the best gift you can give a backcountry skier/snowboarder, but if you don’t have a PhD in cloud physics and a weather modification machine these gift ideas should do the trick.
Gifts for Backcountry Skiers & Splitboarders
Avalanches can kill, and airbag packs drastically increase the odds of surviving one. Black Diamond Equipment has been making airbag packs for years, and their latest version of the JetForce Pro is as good as it gets. The Black Diamond JetForce Pro packs are relatively lightweight and modular, with affordably priced zip on compartments offering 10-35L storage capacities, including a 25L splitboard specific backpack option. The low-profile 10L compartment is ideal for heliskiing and resort sidecountry days, the 25L option is perfect for a dawn patrol adventure before work, and the Black Diamond JetForce 35L option will let your loved one carry all the essentials for full day tours far from civilization.
Unlike traditional airbag packs, the JetForce uses a high volume fan and rechargeable battery system to deploy the airbag, which means your backcountry explorer can deploy the airbag multiple times and won’t have to empty and refill compressed air canisters when their travel plans involve the airlines. The fan also runs in reverse which makes repacking the airbag after deployment a lot easier, and the pack is smart enough to automatically deflate itself a bit in order to open up an air pocket in the unlikely event that your beloved backcountry skier/snowboarder gets completely buried by an avalanche while wearing an airbag pack.
The recipient of this gift will know you care about their safety without coming off too clingy, because these pocket sized units are only designed to call out for help in the event of a serious emergency. A lot of backcountry skiers and snowboarders go to the mountains to “get away from it all”, so a PLB drastically improves their odds of rescue without detracting from that elusive feeling of freedom.
These waterproof GPS beacons are designed primarily for marine use but will work in the mountains so long as a clear view of the sky can be attained. PLBs sync up with government satellites and do not require a subscription service. Users simply register their unit by filling out an online form with their personal info and emergency contact info, stash the unit in their pack, and – thanks to a 5-7 year battery life – can forget about it until they need it. There are many different PLB options but the RescueMe PLB1 Personal Locator Beacon is the smallest and lightest unit on the market.
Conventional satellite phones used to be ridiculously expensive, but now they are much more affordable. Also, in recent years many new products designed to help folks stay in touch while out of cell service have come online. A wide variety of products are available, coverage varies, and subscriptions are typically required but I have had good success with the ultralight and tiny Garmin inReach Mini. They also offer a bigger model with a screen and mapping features, the Garmin inReach Explorer+.
The latest iPhone 14 offers an emergency SOS feature designed to communicate with satellites while out of cell service, but it is still too soon to know how well that tech actually works out in the mountains. If you’d like to be able to reliably text AND talk you might consider a full blown satellite phone like the Iridium Extreme and Iridium 9555 models.
Lightweight, durable, breathable, water resistant bibs with ample zippered ventilation are the best pants for backcountry skiers and snowboarders. The vent zippers and looser fit around the waist than traditional pants keep us from getting too sweaty (and stinky) on our way up the mountain. On the way down the ankle gaiters and nipple high waist keep that glorious snow from sneaking into all the wrong places. Backcountry travel in ski boots or snowboard bindings has a tendency to destroy pants, so hardcore riders consider themselves lucky to get a season or two out of a pair of bibs. New bibs are a true treat, so treat your beloved (or yourself) new set this holiday season.
There are a wide variety of fits available. In my experience a baggier or stretchy conventional fit is best because they don’t restrict movement while striding up a mountain. For a baggy option consider the assortment of men’s and women’s bib options from Armada and Burton like the Armada Men’s Emmon 3L and the Burton Reserve GORE-TEX (shown). For a stretchy conventional fit check out the men’s and women’s Recon Stretch Bibs by Black Diamond Equipment.
Like bibs, goggles are a crucial piece of equipment that tends to get destroyed in the backcountry. The lenses get scratched, the elastic straps wear out, and the goggle frames get squashed when we sit on our packs (because it’s a lot more enjoyable than plopping our tushes down in the snow). Factoring in the wide variety of lenses available for assorted light conditions encountered, we backcountry skiers and snowboarders can’t own too many pairs of goggles, so they always make a great gift. Plus, goggles are a stylish way to make a statement on the mountain.
Some of the coolest goggles on the market right now have arisen from a collaboration between Giro and Fender (yes, that Fender… the guitar maker). At first glance this collab might seem a bit odd, but when we consider how important music is to mountain culture it suddenly makes perfect sense. Giro makes great goggles with a wide variety of lenses and styles, so they’re sure to have something for anyone on your gifting lift, no matter how eccentric their personal style may be.
(and 3-piece collapsible poles for Splitboarders) : Adjustable poles are really nice to have so we can make them longer while traversing the flats or ascending mellow slopes, and shorter for steeper ascents and the descent. Adjustment systems have come a long way in recent years, and odds are your beloved backcountry skier/snowboarder is still making due with an older model. Also, poles eventually break and sometimes folks forget to bring theirs to the trailhead, so it’s always good to have an extra set stashed in the back of the truck. This holiday season might be the perfect time to give your beloved backcountry skier/snowboarder a major upgrade. For skiers, check out the Black Diamond Traverse WR 2.
Splitboarders need new poles even more often than skiers do because no matter how well manufacturers build them, the three piece collapsible poles are more prone to breaking by the nature of their design. As such, a new set of poles is one of the most heartwarming gifts you can give a splitboarder. Check out the Union Aluminum Touring Poles($139.95) and the poles from Black Diamond’s Compactor line of splitboard specific poles.
Lightweight portable saws are surprisingly handy to have in the backcountry, and the BIGBOY model from Silky blades is the best that you can get. A few years ago I started carrying this saw in my pack alongside my shovel and probe, and now I don’t leave home without it. I use it to cut snow while testing avalanche conditions, to clear obstructions from snowmobile trails, to selectively prune shrubbery encroaching on already tight ski runs, and to cut firewood while winter camping. Heck, I could even use it to cut blocks while building an igloo, but I opt to carry a tent or tow a homemade camper behind my snowmobile instead.
Odds are anyone who enjoys backcountry skiing and snowmobiling will find uses for a saw like this in all seasons, and it will certainly help them upgrade their game in the winter months.
Good climbing skins are a crucial piece of gear that inevitably wears out over time. There are few things more frustrating and exhausting than finding yourself far from civilization, slogging through waist deep snow on foot due to an iced up, torn, or broken set of skins. There are many different companies manufacturing skins, and in my experience the best ones are made by Black Diamond. Good luck finding a set though because they sell out of stock every winter. Montana, Pomoca, and G3 also make perfectly acceptable climbing skins, but, again, BD skins are the best.
When buying skins for a skier, figure out the total length of their skis AND the fattest width of the ski to assure you buy skins both long AND wide enough for their skis. Usually these numbers are written somewhere on the top of the ski. When in doubt figure out the ski length and get the widest set of skins you can find: skins get cut to size, so like most things its better to have too much than not enough.
Gifting new skins can be a bit intimidating at first, so here is how you do it. If buying skins for a splitboarder, simply figure out the overall length of their board and buy a set of splitboard specific skins designed to fit a board of that length. For example, if their board is 165cm long, you’d want to get a M/L set of G3 Universal Splitboard Climbing Skins because they are designed for boards 154-172cm in length. G3’s S/M Splitboard Skins fit boards 144-162cm long.
Price: $169 – $229
In our top ten list of stocking stuffers for skiers/snowboarders we recommend a USB powered portable boot dryer, but that’s no substitute for heavier duty home unit to keep boots, gloves, goggles, and all the rest of it bone dry (and less stinky). There are a lot of options out there at various price points. A good affordable option that can dry two pairs of boots at once can be found on Amazon. If you want to go all out and keep the whole family warm and dry consider the heavy duty wall mounted GEAR DRYER ($899.99) which can handle up to six pairs of boots at the same time.
If you’re looking for more affordable options please check out our Top Ten Stocking Stuffers for Backcountry Skiers & Snowboarders as well.