Every winter, I like to attend the High Peaks Cyclery demo day event at Whiteface Mountain in the middle of December to try out some different ski gear.
This year, there were two items that stuck out above the rest for me: Avant Skis and a pair of Dynafit alpine touring boots.
I was naturally drawn to the Avant skis because they are the only alpine skis that I know of currently being made in the Adirondack Park. Avant is a small ski manufacturing business owned and operated by Ben Callaghan and Joel Nashett, who both grew up on Upper Saranac Lake and conceived the idea of starting the business on the slopes of Big Tupper in Tupper Lake.
Mike Lynch/Lake Placid News
Joel Nashett displays his Avant skis during the annual demo day event at Whiteface Mountain in December.
In recent years, both men have been pursuing that dream from Hartford, Conn., where they have lived and worked. But Nashett said Avant will start manufacturing the skis in early January in AuSable Forks, where they recently found a place to live.
Avant skis are also now available for sale locally at High Peaks Cyclery in Lake Placid. Because the business caters to backcountry skiers, the owners have put alpine touring and telemark bindings on the skis. Avant was originally developed as traditional Alpine downhill skis, but because they are made of carbon fiber and are lightweight, they naturally lend themselves to backcountry pursuits. Ultimately, you can put whatever bindings you prefer on them.
When I was at Whiteface for demo days, there were two models of Avant skis available: Bomber 165s and the Ace 181s. I went with the Aces because the Bombers are a smaller ski than I prefer.
The first thing I noticed was the weight. They are extremely light, but that didn't seem to be a problem on the hill.
The other main thing I noticed was that they held up better on Whiteface's icy terrain than some of the other skis I tried out that day. The biggest problem I have at Whiteface is handling the icy terrain after the soft snow has been skied off. The skis seemed to do a good job of holding an edge, so I could maintain control.
The only problem I had was that I caught the edge a few times, which threw me off balance. I think that was probably the result of some minor adjustments that I needed to make with the gear I was using, though, and was something that could be fixed.
If you're looking for a new pair of skis, I would recommend trying out a pair of the Avant's. They aren't cheap. The Aces I tried out cost $799, according to Avant's website, but that's not an outlandish price for new skis. They're actually a little on the inexpensive side, considering they are essentially custom-made.
The other gear item that jumped out at me during the demo day was a pair of Dynafit TLT5 alpine touring boots. These are also another big ticket item and will run you in the $750 range. They are carried at High Peaks Cyclery and at The Mountaineer in Keene Valley.
These boots caught my attention because of their comfort factor. I've never stepped into a pair of ski boots that were so comfortable or light. I only skied with them a few runs, so I can't make a final judgment on their skiing ability, but they seemed to hold up pretty well.
It seems the alpine touring set up has been gaining in popularity among backcountry skiers in recent years. My guess is that is partly because it's easy to transition from traditional downhill to alpine touring gear, which has flexible bindings for climbing with skins but a lock-in aspect for the downhills. With telemark gear, you're never locked in for the downhills. Telemark skiing is also more difficult than alpine skiing for many and some people aren't willing to put the time in to learn it.
One aspect of telemarking that I think I would still prefer is the ability to have tension in the binding for the small hills that you often run into in the Adirondacks. Alpine touring bindings are either locked in or very loose, which means your control is more limited. But that's a personal thing that is up to the individual skier.