Escaping the city is something that everyone needs. A lack of cars, people and noise changes you, even if it is only for a few hours. And so when I had the chance to head out West to meet up with Arc’teryx for a ski trip into the backcountry of Whistler Blackcomb, I pounced.
After touching down, we explored Arc’teryx’s Vancouver factory, where a large part of their products are made. It is an impressive state-of-the-art set up. I spoke to numerous engineers and designers, and it was clear that child-like enthusiasm runs amok here. Without question, the team pursues perfection.
Case in point are their new touring ski boots and avalanche airbag. The Procline Boots are light and stiff, but where they differ is their ability to flex laterally. With a revolutionary design, it is the first boot that has noticeable ankle roll, making ascents on off-camber hills significantly more efficient. I was excited to strap them on and explore the back bowls off the resort.
The Voltair Avalanche Airbag explodes into action during an avalanche, augmenting your chance of survival. It inflates using a fan instead of air cartridges, allowing it to be reused and repacked easily. All this in a highly water-resistant pack made of Arc’teryx’s AC2™ material.
Like all good trips, the bond between the four of us, friends already, was solidified over gear preparation on the eve of our ski adventure. Sipping beers, we fiddled with bindings, ensured proper boot fit and separated our mound of energy bars. It was convivial, educational and amusing. We came together for work, but work was the farthest thing from our minds as we spoke excitedly about the following two days.
The morning brought endless mountains breaking through the thick, low clouds. Surrounded by excellent skiers, my stomach rolled slightly as I pondered which tall peak we were skinning up. The chairlifts brought us deeper and deeper into the grey until finally we were engulfed. I could feel the disappointment in the West Coasters, but I found solace in the thick, haunting clouds. We were Gods in Valhalla, skinning into the unknown.
The conditions were subpar, but having skied in the East my entire life, I still smirked when the guide told us to be careful on the “ice.” The snow battered our faces as we skinned our way up the chosen one of many rugged ridges in the area. I hadn’t thought about the Arc’teryx touring boots for one second — a true testament to their comfort, design and performance. As if on purpose, we spent the morning ascending off-camber slopes, and the ankle roll was noticeable and agreeable. We skinned up in silence, enjoying the surprising remoteness.
The clouds rose, rewriting the scenery around every corner. We skinned our way over cols and into vast bowls, without a single soul in sight. We took the opportunity to launch the Voltair airbag. Within seconds its buoyant bag was above my head, the motor keeping it full with sporadic bursts. It is a tool I wish never to use, but one that is unfortunately necessary in the world of out-of-bounds skiing.
At the end of the last day, we sat around a cramped table enjoying beers. It was pouring rain outside, we had snapped one ski binding, there was no powder in sight, but all we could communicate to each other was our individual excitement. I don’t know if skiing brought us together, or work, or the thrill of testing out products before they are launched worldwide, but we would all have done it again in a heartbeat.
The days were filled with sweat, turns, smiles and squished sandwiches. Whistler Blackcomb is, as all my friends told me prior to departure, a paradise for any skier. It is Arc’teryx’s backyard and design playground. On the plane home I realized that their mindset of finding outside-the-box ways to build products stems from their stunning, rugged terrain. Testing and designing products in the West Coast mountains year-round is the backbone of Arc’teryx’s ideology. Without their physical environment, which I was lucky enough to enjoy, they would assuredly not be the world leader in technical apparel and equipment.