Kirsten Kremer has not missed a ski season in the Chugach since her first visit in 1993 and has worked and guided for Valdez Heli Ski Guides since 1996. Kirsten’s motivation and exploits are legendary: she has flown a paraglider off the North Face of the Augille de Midi in Chamonix; climbed first ascents in Yosemite Valley; skied first descents on Denali; and is an extreme skiing champion. Kirsten also guides for Mountain Trip and Alaska Denali Guiding in the summer. – Via Valdez Heli Ski Guides
2015 marks my 18th year of heli ski guiding for Valdez Heli Ski Guides on Thompson Pass, Valdez Alaska. I’ve watched the weather patterns change, skis get fatter, the evolution of beacons and the birth of the air bag. Avalanches are a reality. With all the snow science, pit data, historic knowledge, and safety measures we use, the one sure way to stay out of avalanches is to stay out of the snow. For many of us, that is unfathomable, so we have to use all the technology and wisdom to our advantage to be as safe as we can.
This season, I used the Ortovox Tour 30+7 Woman ABS. My first impression upon reading it’s description was that it looked sleek and had great colors. Before I received the airbag, there were some complications having the activation unit shipped to Alaska. I also found out that the carbon activation unit is not allowed in the U.S. I was able to borrow a bottle and trigger from a friend. When the Ortovox pack arrived, I was happy with the stellar colors and ease of setting it up. I liked the option to put the trigger on either side. It was not quite as sleek as the picture in the ad.
The pack fit is excellent. The straps are comfortable and the waist belt fits nicely. It offers great mobility and lots of room between your helmet and the pack. Overall, a very sporty, comfortable, and breathable fit. Weight is always an issue, so the carbon bottle would be nice. To help the issue, I tried to put my heaviest gear next to my back. A problem I found with the design is the zipper that allows for extension is part of the shovel compartment. I think this zipper should be eliminated because you really don’t want to add more weight away from your body.
A better design would be to make the main compartment bigger with compression straps on the sides to pull it in and hold your skis. I realize a snowboard would need the attachment on the back, but compression side straps would help the whole pack be more streamlined. The shovel pocket seemed to stick way out when loaded and the pack lost the sleek look it had in the ad. This can be fixed easily and I plan to have these compression straps added because I do think the pack is worth it. With weight being a concern, it is important that the weight is distributed right. This one improvement would be the most important in keeping the weight closer to your core to avoid creating a dangerous swing weight.
I liked the compartments. The fleece lined goggle compartment is a nice touch. The shovel compartment has dual zippers which makes it nice for quickly stashing an open shovel. We are often digging at the landing zone to improve it for further use and then we get the shovel out right away again to dig a pit. I found this dual zipper design to be very helpful.
The shovel compartment had adequate space and it was not a problem to put my shovel, probe, saw, and still have room for miscellaneous items. I found the extension zipper was not needed for this compartment. The bottom compartment is also a good idea. It is handy, and I decided to put my medical kit there for quick easy access. The small pocket on the shovel compartment has a deep pocket with a little opening — my hand barely fits in – my thought is this must be the map compartment. I put a long tube of sunblock in it which was convenient. A GPS unit would fit or anything smaller than your hand. The little zip pocket on the waist belt is sweet for easy access stuff, like my Leatherman and chapstick! The waist belt is a good design – I like the weight on my hips. The gear loops are well-built and the zip pocket is great.
I did not particularly like the waist belt clasp. Great on a sunny day, but not so awesome in blowing snowy conditions. The push button gets ice buildup and when it’s cold, it sucks to take your gloves off to get the clasp to hook. I wear small gloves with good dexterity and I still had issues getting the buckle latched in cold conditions. I mostly used this pack for heli skiing, so I took the buckles off the outside to keep it from hooking onto the basket of the helicopter. I really liked the safety cap for the trigger, and worked well for storing it safely in the heli basket. The trigger is very easy to grab with your eyes shut. There were a few days after big storms that I made sure I could grab it without seeing it. Fortunately, my other skills and luck kept me out of avalanches this year, but it was nice to have that added measure of safety.
As far as touring with the pack goes, it is comfortable which is key. It does need some side compression straps, but it has everything else you would want. It has a good system for ice tools, the bottom compartment is only big enough for skins or crampons, not both. After watching their demo video, with the bag inflated, I can see why they try to keep the sides open for the airbag deployment. I still think it is possible to add these without interfering with the airbag. My overall impression is good on this pack. I plan to use it again next year. It has the two most important things for me, safety and comfort.