By NATHAN BORCHELT
First off, you’ll be able to file the following sentence under “problems worth having.” But making your first run of the ski season with a cat-ski operation can make for a dicey proposition. Not because of the conditions or the guides—everything was top notch. Everything, that is, save my unconditioned legs. Trail run and bike all you want during the off season, but nothing can prep you for that first run of the season, especially when you’re skiing off piste and have embarrassingly little confidence in your skills.
Thankfully, by the second run, my muscle memory kicked in, and even under overcast skies, the day unfolded with the kind of textbook skiing that makes you feel alive—and hated/envied by anyone plugged into your social media feed.
The event, which unfolded in the snow-choked expanse of Utah’s Uinta Mountains with Park City Power Cats, was organized by DPS Skis and Trew to check out the new slew of products to hit the market in the coming season.
I hooked up with the co-founders of Trew in the inky pre-dawn darkness of Salt Lake City, and we drove deep into the western Uinta Mountains, fueled by strong coffee and illuminated by the glow of our iPhones. We reached Park City Powder Cats an hour later, just as the sun started to peak over the ridgeline, spilling soft light on the carpets of powder that surround their headquarters. The region had seen a few dustings in week leading up, but nothing huge. So, no hero powder turns. But significant snowfall earlier the season had built up a substantial base, and the day held promise.
My skills, however, did not. At least not at first. After getting kitted out with a great cache of new Trew upper layers and configuring one of the new DPS Foundation skis to our boots, we headed out into the wild. The veteran guides knew where to pilot the cats through the more than 40,000 acres at our disposal so we could get fresh turns in the best conditions possible that day. If only I could’ve remembered how to ski on those first two runs.
You know how to ski, my inner voice proclaimed as I made my tentative descents. So why don’t you?
But soon I relaxed. My eyes adjusted to the flat light, my legs started to respond to the variable off-piste terrain, and my lungs and calves (mostly) stopped screaming. I let the skis do what they were designed to do, and the Trew layers kept me warm, dry, and comfortable. By lunch—gourmet sandwiches and warm soup served in a backcountry yurt by the affable folks at Park City Powder Cats—I’d embraced the first day of the 2015-16 ski season, buoyed by the experience, sure. But also by the stellar new cache of gear we were testing.
Here are a few highlights:
This high-quality ski manufacturer traces its roots to 2005 when pro skier/ski designer Stephan Drake teamed up with ski engineer Peter Turner. They soon who pioneered the concept of rocker skis, borrowing the tech from surfboards. DPS were also the first to introduce prepreg carbon fiber sandwich skis, 120mm pintails, and rockered skis with sidecuts, affectionately known as “Spoon Technology.” All this space-agey stuff translates pretty simply: DPS makes some of the most advanced, highly responsive skis on the market.
The ones we tried this January were the next step in DPS’s evolution. The new Foundation line reimagines ski construction by leveraging the company’s DNA shaping with top-end carbon race bases and a textured Polyamide top, along with new laminates and core compositions. This new architecture aligns the tech to trigger under you foot, and then move outwards to the tip and tail, rather than the traditional overlaying of flex patterns. The end result? A powerful, stable, planted, and damp feel on skis that trick you into thinking you’ve improved by leaps and bounds. And at a base price of $799, the new Foundation skis are a far cry less expensive their Cadillac models, which start at $1,050. But they don’t sacrificing the intuitive skiing that DPS skis deliver.
The Foundation models I tested, like the 2016 Wailer 106 Foundation, were both playful and entirely responsive, and definitely saved me from a few missteps on the first few runs. They turned well, responded almost intuitively, and the rocker/camber construct really lends a freewheeling sorta playfulness in loose pow and more tracked-out terrain. It employs bi-phase bamboo and poplar at the core, along with the trademark “Spoon” sidecut to blend the contact points and allow for intuitive turning. And the simple graphic—primary colors that lighten slightly from tail to tip—are simply beautiful.
This upstart apparel company got its start in 2007 when co-founded Tripp Frey ditched a Wall Street gig to align his life with his innate passion for the mountains. He and two of his life-long friends started things with one bib, spent years on the road promoting the brand in ski resort parking lots, and recently converted to a direct-to-consumer business model, which considerably reduces retail distribution costs. As a result, their apparel is one of the lower-cost high-quality offerings on the market, with a dedication to both tech-centric fabrics and just the right measure of slope-side style.
NuYarn Base Layer ($107)
This lightweight quarter-zip long-sleeved base layer employs the Nu-Yarn fabric construction where the merino wool fibers are placed in parallel, eliminating the twisting in yarn. It’s then woven around a nylon core to add strength, then doubled-up to create a two-ply construction. All this translates into a merino layer that’s 25% warmer, 16% stronger, and 35% stretchier than other merino base layers—and one that dries five times faster. It has performed admirably all season, from runs off the snow cat to laps at several Utah resorts and several cold-temp trail runs. The touch is incredibly soft, and the thumb loops make it easy to seal in the heat.
Kooshin Insulated Jacket ($199)
As frequent readers of this site know, we get stupid-excited about gear, and the Kooshin has become my go-to mid/outer layer this season. At first glance, it doesn’t look like much more than another stylish insulated piece with some cool quilting patterns on the torso. Put it on and the plush feel envelops you—but it really shows its versatility when you start to move. It uses 3DeFX+ construction, which may sound like market-speak but boils down to crazy-good stretchiness. This means you can wear it as a form-fitting mid-layer (or outer later in warmer climes) and it’ll move with you. Good-bye over-puffy insulation. You get a few zipper pockets—a chest pocket, along with hand-warmers—along with a central zip, a high-draft collar, and a nice stretch of elastic at the cuffs. I’ve worn the Kooshin during all sorts of activities this winter, and it’s been incredible. It also breathes remarkably well; I also never over-heated during stop/start activities like skiing, hiking, and sledding.
Wander Shell ($419)
Largely influenced by Trew’s love of the backcountry, this high-performance shell relies on a minimalist design to keep it light, but it doesn’t crimp on any of the must-need features. The jacket breaths better than most three-layer shells thanks to the Derminox NX fabrics. Yes, another bit of tech-speak—just know it breaths a lot better than most other three-layer jackets. The Wanderer layers thicker fabric at the high-contact touch-points (the shoulders and lower hem), and then layers in underarm zip vents, taped seams, a RECCO reflector, and microsuede at the chin guard. You get two external pockets deep enough to stash your skins, along with elastic internal drop pockets, Velcro cuffs, and long, articulated arms for freedom of movement.
Park City Powder Cats offer daylong outings in the more than 40,000 acres in the Thousand Peaks Ranch—more terrain than all three Park City-area resorts combined. They also offer heli-skiing. Individual cat rates through March 20 run $489 a day, and the 2016-17 rates are $549, and includes snacks in the morning and lunch in their backcountry yurt.