Smack dab in the middle of show season—the marathon series of outdoor product conventions that include the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, the Ski Industry Association, and ISPO, the Euro equivalent of Winter OR—I had the good fortune of going to Telluride to check out the operations at Wagner Skis, a custom ski maker that specializes in crafting skis that are tailored exactly to you, and to play with some of the latest and greatest hard and soft goods from Swiss-based Mammut.
It was a heady, fun, and fast trip that included testing new product, taking factory tours, getting avalanche training, watching lots of gear demos, and (yes) drinking more than my share of the award-winning beers from Telluride Brewing.
And what I saw from Mammut (both from products in its current line, as well as new products slated for fall 2015) was proof that the Swiss company ain’t slowing down in their innovation, use of high-tech fabrics, and the creation of products that boast both style and performance.
But first, a bit about Telluride.
This high-altitude town and ski resort makes every other quaint mountain town you’ve ever visited suddenly feel like the Mall of America. Walking through Telluride’s historic streets feels like you’ll living in a snow globe—it’s almost sickening if it wasn’t so refreshingly genuine.
The town, nestled into a box canyon surrounded by the slopes of some pretty steep mountains, got its start as a mining village, and the centuries-old structures still stand today, painstakingly preserved and very much a part of Telluride’s master plan. You won’t see any garish neon signs glowing on the streets at night.
The resort base, which is connected to the streets of Telluride via a gondola that rises over a ridge and then drops back into the mountain village, does look like a more traditional ski resort, complete with modern log cabin townhomes and plush hotels. But the skiing—and the ski access—is some of the best in the state. It doesn’t hurt that the resort’s base sits at 8,725 feet and that the horizon is punctuated by rows of snow-capped 14,000+-foot peaks. Here you get 127 designated runs spread across more than 2,000 acres—as well as easy access to loads of backcountry—and haute on-mountain cuisine like Alpino Vino, an Italian bistro modeled after those in the Dolomites, and Bon Vivant, a French open-air restaurant that was good enough to suck almost two hours from my first ski day.
And now to the gear…
This year’s new Alyeska GTX Pro 3L Jacket ($750) and Bibs ($600), make up one of the most fully featured kits in Mammut’s line. Targeting freeriders and backcountry skiers and riders, the GTX Pro proved to be incredibly breathable on several high-octane days on- and off piste, with sunny skies and temps in mid to upper 30s (its breathability is bolstered by smartly positioned twin pit zips, but I never needed ‘em).
The jacket boasts four front pockets, a few internal pockets, a sleeve zip for your ski pass, and a chest zipper that gives you easy access to your beacon (especially if you store it in the upper pocket of the Alyeska bibs). The three-side-adjustable hood is helmet-compatible, the stretch powder skirt zips out, and the loose fit and overall smart styling hits that sweet spot between too svelte and too damn baggy. I also really love the gusset on the collar; just pull down the short zipper to open the collar wide, and you can easily seek shelter from the storm; it also makes pulling the hood over your helmet a breeze.
The bibs, meanwhile, have mesh side vents, tear-proof edge protection, a big pocket on the right thigh, and a snap-and-zipper pocket on your chest for your beacon (though when I put the beacon in this pocket, it felt a bit odd against my chest/ribs, odd given that the rest of the kit fit my slender 6’2” frame perfectly).
I also tested out the new Kira Pro Jacket, a full-zip mid layer made of Polartec’s new Power Wool fabric, which has merino wool on the inside and poly/nylon on the outer. Given the warm climes, I was hesitant to wear it—it felt like it would be way too warm, especially on highly aerobic outings. But I was shocked to find that, after a moment of over-heating, the merino wool successfully drew the sweat from my base layer, pushed it to the synthetic outer to dry, and it kept me far more comfortable than I thought possible.
The fabric texture does take on a slightly wrinkled look over a period of days, likely due to the crimps woven into the wool, which improves elasticity and promotes the trapping of air. It’ll be interesting to see how this bares out over time, but for now it’s my go-to mid-layer; the thumb loops in the sleeve and two nice side pockets also offer some solid non-ski applications. The Kira Pro and the Woman’s Trovat Pro drop in Fall 2015, and will be available in half-zip ($129) and full-zip (179) models.
We also got to take a peak a handful of new products also slated for next season, including the sleek new Alvier HS Hooded Jacket and Bib for men, and the woman’s Pischa HS Hooded Jacket and Pant. Both use the new Gore-Tex C-Knit fabric, which is softer to the touch than typical hard shells without sacrificing the waterproof/breathable qualities. Mammut really nailed the overall aesthetic and fit for these freeride and backcountry-focused products.
I’m also really psyched to test out their new insulation line, available in vest, jacket, and hooded jacket models, each boasting toasty Primaloft Silver down (60% white, treated duck down and 40% synthetic). The soft goods product manager explained that Mammut had undertaken a new fit consistency program to dial in a fit for their apparel, one that takes into account both the more slender Euro body type and the more stocky, traditional North American frame.
And if the Trovat IS Hooded Jacket I tried on was any indication, they’ve nailed it; it fit both my narrow 6’2” frame and my colleague—a stocky, shorter snowboarder—perfectly. Price for the men’s and woman’s hooded jackets start at $250; hoodless and vests should be cheaper. And the colorways should give it some nice urban/travel appeal (save the neon green cos…well, if you love that color, go for it!)
In hard goods—a category that continues to speak to Mammut’s focus on creating safe, functional mountain equipment—they continue to make strides with the twin focus of rendering the products easy to use, and making them durable as hell. We wore several models of their award-winning backcountry packs, each equipped with either the more lightweight Removable Airbag System or the Protection Airbag System, the latter introduced in 2013 and still one of the best designs since it offers protection both from burial and trauma.
We also tested their two main beacon models in a race to find packs with special prizes inside (the kind that can only be found legally in Washington and Colorado), buried in a large snow field in Telluride’s Avalanche Training Center. The Element Barryvox proved easy and simple to use—precisely as is it was designed, with a 60-meter range and a 50-meter search strip width.
The Pulse Barryvox, meanwhile, targets more experienced users, or those who want their intro beacon to grow with them in terms of functional complexity. It boasts largely the same stats as the Element, but with an additional 95-meter range in analog mode, and can be toggled between basic and advanced user profiles; the latter of which overlays analog details and the ability to use motion sensors in the transmitting beacon that can detect heartbeat, respiration, and blood flow movement. Thankfully we never found ourselves in a situation dire enough to require such level of detail, though it was comforting to know that it existed—and that our guides knew how to use it.