Hardware testers share their coolest winter 2021 adventure stories
Test for HikerThe Winter Gear Guide is a multi-month process. Our Editors and Category Managers scour the snowy regions of the country in search of inclement weather, epic journeys and insightful product reviews. Along the way, they embark on all kinds of adventures (and, sometimes, in difficult situations). Here are some of our favorite anecdotes from last winter’s testing cycle.
Eli Bernstein, material editor
When I think of memorable winter tests, it usually involves battling blowing snow or scavenging for air when going up a hill, or a combination of the two. But sometimes it’s just pure fun. On a full moon night last winter, I joined a group of backcountry skiers on Teton Pass outside of Jackson, Wyoming. The sky was clear and cloudless, and the moon illuminated Jackson Hole in the east as we grazed for a few minutes, then ski down a mellow ridge a few hundred feet away. This was the test portion of the trip: the thermometer was hovering around 0 ° F, and I was wearing underwear and a bouffant that I was taking notes on. (Spoiler: They were slightly insufficient for the cold of the night.) Once we got off the ridge, the fun began. The leader of this expedition had dug a fire pit in the snow earlier and we spent the next three hours sheltered from the freezing conditions by a roaring campfire and in good company. Once it got late we skied the rest of the way down the pass, with me the whole time sucking in the warmth of the fire as my face froze and my eyes filled with tears.
Corey Buhay, Packs Category Manager
I spent three days ice climbing in the notoriously rugged valley surrounding the North Fork of the Shoshone River in Wyoming. It wasn’t cold or windy, but the warm temperatures let the ice sink in, which meant we were soaked almost as soon as we started to climb. It did some good hardshell testing, and it definitely put our gloves to the test. I had to undergo three pairs a day.
Adam Roy, digital editor
You wouldn’t normally think of Lincoln, Nebraska, as a place with climatic extremes. But when a snowstorm hit the town while I was visiting family, I decided to put on my Nordic skis and take an overnight getaway on the local trails. Only problem: it was -10 ° F, not counting the wind chill. Keeping a high tempo took most of the time, and a good mid layer (plus a few sturdy mittens) did the rest. The whispering snow underfoot and the full moon casting long shadows made up for the fact that I had to thaw my beard from my underwear in the car.
Steve Johnson, Trousers Category Manager
The scene: A freezing mid-January afternoon, it was snowing heavily, as I walked along the banks of the Mississippi near downtown St. Paul, Minneapolis. Just me and my rambunctious Rottweiler, weighing in at around five dollars. I wore a bouffant and a pair of REI winter pants, as well as some trusty Sorel boots. My dog walked on a fringe of ice to investigate something shiny; the ice broke and he fell into it. I immediately ran to help him, but the ice shattered again and I got into the drink as well. The river was about 15 feet deep and breathtakingly cold. I stepped on the water with my feet trying to lift my dog’s weight towards freedom. It took a long time, but I got it out and managed to get my waterlogged car back to shore. The pants froze to ice cubes but kept most of the water from seeping through my long underwear to my bare skin. I shook the skein of outside ice and walked back to the car. Pants killer performance when it mattered most.
Shannon Davis, Editorial Director
Not all test stories come from extreme conditions. This is surely where you learn the most about your gear, but there are also the blue merle days, relatively warm, with a foot of fresh snow. You learn a lot these days too.
I really needed one of them after a family fear of Covid kept me from joining our team’s Editors’ Choice trip to Oregon’s Wallowa chain. As my coworkers exited the trailhead in Northwest Oregon, my buddy Josh and I butchered Hidden Valley in Rocky Mountain National Park. There was cool powder underfoot and sparkling flakes hovering in the rays of the sun. The descent on the Advanced Shelter Splitboard I was testing felt like a day at a resort. Such a float! Beautiful turns in the surf! We did three laps on lesser known trails in the valley and then had donuts. This outing was a worthy consolation prize and my favorite day to test out winter clothing last year.
Zoe Gates, Skills Writer
I’ve been skiing downhill ever since I learned to walk, but skiing uphill is a whole new ball game for me. During our Editors’ Choice trip to the Wallowas, I practiced my nascent skinning skills in all manner of spring conditions, from slippery morning crust to knee-deep sleet. I spent more time going up than down, and had my fair share of falls on the climbs. On the third day, a few of us climbed Burger Butte in a hot afternoon sun. I was terrified as we crossed a steep, slippery slope, struggling to keep my skis from slipping. Just below the summit our guide executed a sharp turn and did the final skin to the top. I froze under the turn: my kick-turns were awkward and often left me tangled in my own skis. But if I took them off and walked to the top, I was afraid of losing a ski on the steep slope. I felt like I was tilting backwards off the side of the mountain as I rocked my first ski. I took deep breaths as our guides shouted encouragement, gave me an internal pep talk, and lifted my other ski from the snow. My skis, finally side by side and in the right direction, sank into the snow. It wasn’t graceful, but I hadn’t fallen from the mountain. Burger Butte might not be the most technical summit in the world, but I felt a surge of pride as I joined my companions at the top.