The Vicious Gear Cycle
“New gear always leads to more new gear.” This is a favorite quote my buddy Mason likes to sling as soon as the first snow of the season dusts upper peaks. That touch of early-autumn chill triggers our internal alarms that it’s time to get ready for ski season. To reinforce this fact, gear guides arrive in mailboxes. Ski swaps pop up across town. And local shops display the latest shiny backcountry-ski setups. I typically can’t resist such temptation and convince myself that I need to replace at least one worn-out piece of my touring kit. But then Mason’s sage words ring in my skull, and force the credit card back into my wallet.
The idea behind his mantra is simple: if you think you’re done spending money after dropping $1,000 on new skis, think again.
Here’s how the scenario usually plays out for me. I buy a new pair of skis and excitedly take them home with the intention of mounting my current, perfectly good bindings to them. But of course, as soon as I tear the plastic wrap off the skis and catch a whiff of that new-ski smell, I decide that screwing old bindings into those flawless topsheets is about as good an idea as installing wall-to-wall carpet in an animal shelter. So I plop down $500 for the latest in alpine-touring binding technology.
Fast forward to winter, and the first day I get to ski with my new gear. I slide my lightweight, virgin skis into the skintrack and almost reverently click into the unsullied bindings. I am giddy with the setup’s performance as they allow me to fly up the mountainside and kick-turn with ease on switchbacks. But my enthusiasm falters when I make my first turns down powdery fields. I decide that my ski boots are too burly. In my obsessive mind they seem to overpower the new feathery skis and bindings. Plus, I determine that if I’m trying to save weight, I might as well trim off a few grams from my boots as well. Back to the ski shop I go where another $900 nets me carbon fiber, Pebax Franken-boots that promise the most efficient climbing ability paired with freeskiing downhill performance.
Finally happy with my new setup, my savings account, after taxes, is nearly 3-grand lighter. I’m also in Dutch with the wife because that money was probably being saved for a vacation in Hawaii. So to avoid such scenarios, I try to stay away from new gear altogether, until it’s absolutely necessary that I replace something. Although even then, new gear creates a dilemma.
Recently, I needed new climbing skins. The nylon had more bald spots than my own patchy scalp, and the glue was sluffing off so bad that it was sticking to my ski bases worse than grape jelly around a toddler’s mouth. So I happily paid full price for a new pair. But when it came time to cut virgin skins into the shape of my beat-up, old backcountry skis, it seemed downright shameful. I felt like I was sliding a prom dress on the body of an 80-year-old woman. In that moment, I seriously, insanely, considered buying new skis just to match my new skins.
So Mason’s expression that new gear always leads to more new gear is spot on. However, it’s worth noting that Mason rarely heeds his own warning. In fact, he’s among the worst offenders I know, and even takes things to a whole new level.
Take backpacks for example. Mason admits that he has way too many of them because he might purchase a pack and love everything about it, except the pack lacks one particular feature. So he’ll buy another backpack that has that desired feature, but the new one lacks a different feature. So he plunks down cash for another backpack… and around the circle he goes. Before long, he’s got a closet full of packs and none of them are 100% perfect.
Now the search for perfection in ski gear is a fool’s errand as the price point is infinitely higher than backpacks. And while I’ve never had a backcountry setup that hasn’t exhibited some perceived flaw in my estimation, the simple lack of funds negates any attempt to rectify it through the stockpiling of supposedly better skis. Thankfully, I’ve been overall happy with my current setup.
That is until last season. While skiing in some manky snow the day after a mid-winter rain event, I busted the heel piece off a tech binding. Both my skis and bindings were showing their age after enduring over 200 backcountry tours. As a result, I’ve considered a new setup for the last few years, but never summoned up enough willpower to pull the trigger. After the busted binder, I vowed that this season was the time I would go all-in on new gear, Hawaii be damned. But to ease my mind before jumping head-first into the vortex of internet searches and gear reviews, I took my ruined binding to a ski shop to see if anything could be done. Lo and behold, the manufacturer sent out a brand new heel piece for free, even though the warranty had expired many moons ago. Damn them and their excellent customer service. They saved me from the new gear cycle once more.
Of course, while waiting for my binding to be remounted, I caught myself pawing at discounted ski-touring packs. I feel my current one is missing one particular feature.
So, yea. The gear cycle can be vicious indeed.