Preseason Backcountry Gear Prep

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Preseason Backcountry Gear Prep

Check your gear for any squeaks, cracks, globs or groans

Equipment failure. It's happened to the best of us. Ski touring gear is built to be minimalist and ultra-light, and unexpected failures in the backcountry can be a major hassle at best, and life-threatening at worst.

Shorter days, fall colors, and crisp mornings mean that summer is giving way to fall and ski season is right around the corner. The first tour of the year sneaks up fast, and the trailhead probably isn't the best place to knock the mud out of your bindings from last June. **Now** is the perfect time to be proactive and begin maintaining and dialing in your ski-touring gear to make sure it functions at its best this season.
An ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure when it comes to preventing a catastrophic gear failure deep in the backcountry. By performing a few routine gear checks as the season progresses, we can identify potential problems before they ruin your long-anticipated.

Preseason Backcountry Gear Preparation

Does your gear pass the preseason check?

Ski Maintenance

Make sure your skis are in top order

Touring skis are purpose-built to be lightweight, and are subjected to some pretty extreme stresses as we use them to move through the mountains. Skis are constructed of layers of different materials laminated together vertically and horizontally to give the skis their on-snow performance characteristics. If any of these layers begin to separate, you have a dreaded delamination, or "de-lam".

Closely inspect the entire length of the seam between the skis' edge and sidewall for any separation. If you find any gaps, this is an area where water can penetrate the core of the ski and eventually damage and weaken the core materials. If a de-lam is found, repair using a dab of two-part waterproof epoxy and clamp tightly until the epoxy is fully cured. The 5-minute quick-set epoxy found at many hardware stores is usually fine for this repair.

As you're inspecting your sidewalls, keep an eye on your edges and note any major burrs, compressions or cracks. A compressed edge may or may not accompany a delamination. If an edge is badly compressed or damaged, a professional ski technician may be able to cut the damaged portion away and lay in a new section of edge. If the damage is minor, consider keeping the damaged edge on the outside, where it will be subjected to less force than the inside edge. Designating a left or right ski can make this easy to pull off at-a-glance.


Base repairs should be addressed in the preseason, as well. Deeper gouges and minor core shots should be filled with p-tex, and bases should be waxed. Waxing your skis regularly helps to keep them slippery, but also helps prevent the buildup of skin glue residue.

Binding Maintenance

Look over your tech bindings for any technical failures

Pound-for pound, ski touring bindings are extremely strong, but as the link between boot and ski becomes lighter, periodic safety and maintenance checks are even more crucial to keep them performing at their best.

Using the correct tool, (a T-25 Torx driver or #3 Phillips or Pozi-driver), check the tightness of each screw that affixes the binding to the ski. If a screw has worked its way loose, back it out, add a drop of epoxy or wood glue, and hand-tighten, making sure not to cross the threads. The baseplate of the binding should be completely flush with the top sheet of the ski if all screws are adequately tight.
Many touring bindings also use machine screws (fine thread). If any machine screws are found to be loose, removing and adding a drop of Blue Loc-Tite to the threads should prevent loosening in the future. As you're reinstalling screws in your bindings, don't go crazy with the torque you apply (you don't want to strip them), but make sure they're nice and snug.

Closely examine the toe and heel piece of the binding for any signs of stress or micro-fractures. These can often go unnoticed until a serious malfunction occurs. Cracked, stressed, or otherwise compromised bindings should be replaced immediately.

Binding maintenance is a crucial step to staying safe in the backcountry. Cripple Creek Backcountry in Carbondale has introduced a new "Parts Wall" to their repair shop, making it a one-stop-shop for replacement parts for most brands of touring bindings!

Boot Maintenance

Check out your backcountry boots

The boot is the most crucial piece of gear we use to travel the backcountry, so it's worth the time to check for any damage or wear several times each season. Touring boots take a beating, and rivets and screws commonly work themselves loose. Check all screws for tightness and add Blue Loc-tite to any hardware that has loosened. Worn rivets should be replaced. Pay special attention to the buckle screws, as they seem to work loose easily, and losing a buckle can be a day-wrecker.

Check the integrity of all rivets, including the boot's main pivot point on the cuff. These should be pivoting freely, with minimal play. Worn rivets should be replaced when possible.
The boot-binding interface is crucial to having a safe, enjoyable day in the backcountry. Check the wear of your boots' tech-inserts. When the boot is locked into the binding, there shouldn't be any play in the interface between the binding's pins and the boot's insert. If you notice grinding or excessive play, your tech inserts are worn, and it may be time to consider replacing your boots.

Boot shells are subjected to extreme forces, and micro-fractures in the plastic can lead to major problems down the road. Closely examine your boots for any signs of stress or cracking. Cracked shells should be replaced immediately. (Scarpa has issued a voluntary recall on certain models of 2017 Maestrale and Maestrale RS touring boots. The shells are prone to this type of cracking, and Scarpa is repairing them free of cost. If you own a Scarpa boot that may fall under this recall, more information can be found here).

Closely examine your liners for excessive wear or damage. Touring boots often have lightweight, low-density liners that tend to show signs of wear rather quickly. Remove your liners from their shells and give them a once-over. Are all seams holding and intact? Is there excessive wear near the pivot-point of the shell? Finally, try the boot on before you head out skiing. Small changes to your anatomy over the off-season can lead to unanticipated fit issues. Replacement liners can breathe new life into your beloved shells, and can potentially extend the lifespan of your boots by a few seasons. If something feels out of whack, schedule an appointment with us at Cripple Creek for a pre-season boot fitting appointment to realign your boot’s fit.

Climbing Skin Maintenance

Check your magic carpets before it's time to fly

Your climbing skins take a beating in the springtime, so it's worth it to take a look at them before your first day on snow. Pick as much of the grit, dog hair, and pine needles out of the glue as you can. Skins that have lost some of their stickiness can be re-glued to extend their life. The tip and tail attachment points are high-stress areas that should also be examined for cracks or tears. During off-season (anytime that it's not cold out), storing your skins in a cool and dark place will help prolong the quality of their glue.

Professional Advice

Want some help with this preseason prep?

If any of this information seems overwhelming, the touring equipment experts at Cripple Creek Backcountry are here to help!

We are now open to walk in traffic seven days a week in Aspen Highlands and Carbondale and open Monday-Friday in Avon. We are adhering to social-distancing guidelines, and limiting the number of customers in the store. Booking an appointment is the best way to make sure that we have the gear you need and an expert ready to offer you a personalized one-on-one consultation.

Book an appointment or give us a call at (970) 510-0450.

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  • John Paul
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