Category:Equipment

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Revision as of 23:11, 12 February 2007 by D-eye (Talk | contribs) (Where to Buy or Hire Equipment)

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Boarding Boots

Buying boarding boots is about the same as buying ski boots. You should try on every set of boots in the shop, then go to the next shop, and the next. Once you know what fits and what does not - then look at your short list again.

For the newbie, there are two distinct types of boots - soft and hard (plastic). If you don't know this, you don't want plastic boots... as plastic boots go on a race board.

Most boots are fairly durable. Like anything there are a lot of features you can look for. Boots can have two sets of laces (inner and outer) or a pull string on the inner. The toe and the heel of the boot can be tapered upward to prevent toe or heel drag. The amount of support can vary from boot to boot. Park oriented boots are normally a bit shorter around the ankles than free ride boots. Have a look at how tight you can get the boots around the your ankle.

The thing to remember is - when you ride well - you ride though your feet as if you are standing on the board. So, like a normal pair of shoes, you should be looking for something which is comfortable to stand in as your first priority. What can aid in this greatly are a pair of footbeds. They will probably be about the best $100 you ever spent.

The last thing to look as is, are these boots going to fit into your bindings properly.

Cross Country

  • Skis

There are a number of types of cross-country ski.

For trail skiing, the main types are Classic and Skate.

Classic skis may or may not have a patterned base. The pattern aids uphill skiing by reducing backward slide. In the absence of a pattern, classic skis should use grip wax or klister to achieve the same effect. The length of a classic ski should be more than the height of a skiier, but less than the height to the raised wrist. The profile of a classic ski is traditionally 44 44 44, although these days, wider waisted skis are sometimes used for recreation. The 2 most common bindings used are SNS and NNN. Both consist of a bar which clips into the toe of the boot, and raised section/s running along the ski to stabilise the boot and helping to prevent sideways movement of the boot.

Skate skis do not have a patterned base and do not use grip wax or klister. The length of a skate ski is normally about 10cm shorter than a classic ski.

  • Boots

Classic boots should be a comfortable fit, firm but not too tight. Skate boots are stiffer than classic boots.

Make sure the boots are compatible with the binding type!

  • Poles

Pole length: Classic: turn the pole upside down. The basket should fit comfortably under the arm pit. Skate: Pole length is normally between chin and nose height.

  • Clothing

Generally a shell outer jacket is worn, with layering underneath. Cross-country skiing is a very aerobic activity so you need to be able to take off those underlayers as necessary. Pants - normal ski pants may be worn, or overpants over the top of other pants. Kinetix pants are great, but are very hard to obtain these days, and cannot be bought at normal retail ski outlets. For racing events, don't be surprised to see top competitors in lycra.

Alpine Touring

  • Alpine Touring, Ski Mountaineering or Ski Randonee are terms used interchangeably. The basic concept is of bindings such as the Fritschi Freeride (and other brands) which allow one to ski downhill as per usual, then release a catch that allows the heel to go free for the uphill travel, and lock down again to ski down.
  • AT is popular in The Alps of Europe, and the Southern Alps of New Zealand, and anywhere else where there are reasonably steep mountains in the backcountry. Mountaineering skills are required for many AT trips in the big Alps. AT can be used on gentler slopes, but is slower than cross country gear on such terrain.
  • Normal downhill skis can be used, but AT skiers go for the lightest and shortest ski they can, knowing that they will, at some stage of the day, undoubtedly be carrying them on their pack.
  • Skins are required for uphill travel on snow. These have short nylon (or sometimes mohair) hairs on them, with a "nap" which allows forward travel, but grip the snow so as to not slide backwards. Good for going up steep hills. The skins have some sort of attachment on the front and back, and an adhesive side which sticks to the ski base. They are attached for the uphill climb, then removed for the ski downhill.
  • AT boots are similar to normal downhill ski boots, but generally softer. They have a catch which when flicked into "climb" mode, allows them to flex much more at the ankle, and when in "ski" mode locks them into ski position. They usually have vibram soles and fit automatic (clip-on) crampons well, so steep ice mountaineering can be done in them (and may be necessary on AT tours in glaciated alpine terrain).

Goggles

Goggles are there to protect your eyes from wind and sun. With most goggles it is easy to see in bright light. Different goggles have different properties in low light, fog and snow. The main factors here are lens colour and coatings. Different people swear by different colours and coatings, so it seems that there are no absolute rules - it is a question of personal preference. Some brands offer multiple lenses which can be swapped depending on conditions and preference.

When you buy goggles think about compatibility with your helmet, if you wear one. Take your helmet with you when you buy goggles (and vice versa). Goggles have different shapes. Hold them up to your face without pushing. Thhe one that most closely fits your face with its natural shape is the one that is most likely to be the most comfortable.

The bane of goggles is fogging up. This occurs when moisture condenses on the inside surface of the lens. There are some tips to avoid fogging:

  • Double lens goggles work. There is a layer of dead air between the two lenses that insulates your warm face from the cold outside.
  • Try to keep moisture off the inside surface. Holding goggles so snow or rain falls onto the inside lens means that moisture is already there.
  • Keep vents clear. The foam covered holes on the top and bottom of the frame are designed to let air circulate. Make sure they are clear so that the right amount of air circulates. This can mean occasionally clearing them of snow, and making sure beanies, scarves etc do not block them. This reduces fogging.
  • Do not polish the inner surface. This generally has a fog reducing coating. If you use inappropriate cleaning methods the coating is damaged or removed. Follow the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Do not put your goggles up onto your forehead, particularly if you are sweating. If the goggles are there you will sweat into them. Sweat is the dreaded moisture.
  • If, regardless of everything else, your goggles are still fogging, higher volume goggles (bigger frames so there is more air behind the goggle lens) are less prone to fogging.

Gloves & Mittens

Gloves or mittens are necessary to keep your hands warm. They should be waterproof, windprooof and insulated.

Your hands sweat. See waterproof/breathable under How to Choose a Parka.

A great option is gloves with a waterproof/breathable shell, and removable fleece liners. Washing (and desmelling) are much easier, and on spring days you can either ski in the liner or the shell and be comfortable.

Leather is an option, but leather requires maintenance to keep it supple and waterproof. A well made leather glove is a pleasure to wear. The drawback with Leather gloves is that they aren't really waterproof, so if you are skiing in Australia they often aren't suited to the conditions (ie sleet/rain).

Look for reinforcing on the palms and where you grip your pole or wherever boarders experience wear, like on the knuckles.

Gauntlet style gloves that extend up your forearm are a good idea because the more overlap you have the less weather penetrates. These are often sold as boarder gloves, but it is an area where boarders are undoubtedly ahead of skiers. If time is important it is harder to read your watch.

Gloves help dexterity. Mittens are warmer. There are hybrid gloves around that have a separate index finger, and the other three fingers are in a single pocket. These have most of the warmth of mittens, but allow some dexterity with the index finger. They are called lobster claws for reasons that are obvious when you see them. What you need depends on your metabolism.

Most of the big manufacturers like Swany and Kombi have two-piece gloves with a thin fleece liner and a nylon breathable waterproof whatever fabric outer. This is a versatile system, as you can peel down to the liner only on warm days, use the outer only for wet mild days, both together as things get colder. The downside is now you have 4 pieces to lose instead of the traditional 2.

If skiing/boarding a lot consider a few different types of gloves with different ones suited to different conditions. eg a warmer weather spring weight glove, a general purpose glove, a damn cold day glove and a wet weather glove. If you just have to be out in the wet weather then consider a woolen inner inside a thick vulcanised rubber glove - may not be fashionable but keeps you warm and dry!

Helmet

How important is your brain? Helmets are a no brainer. Without one you may be a no brainer. Different brands of helmets have different shapes. Try a few on and see which is most comfortable. Look for adjustable vents that can be opened on hot days, and closed on cold. Also think about compatibility with your goggles or be prepared to buy new goggles. Also, some helmets have ear coverings, others do not.

One Piece Suits

These will probably come back into fashion. OK, unlikely, but weirder things have happened. Great for keeping wind and snow out. Unequalled practicality on a powder day. You will not pick up.

Can be very good for little kids (1-5 or 6 yo) as you don't have to worry about them getting snow down their pants and up their backs. Will keep them warmer and dryer. Only downside is you need a bit more effort for them to go to the toilet but 3yo + can pick that up pretty quickly and the benefits outweigh the downsides here. If young kids are wearing them to ski school/kids club put shorts on under them as they will probably want to take them off when inside for play/lunch etc.

Pants

A lot of the factors that apply to parkas also apply to pants (OK - maybe not the stuff about hoods.)

The equivalent of the collar and powder skirt is the cuff. Make sure that there is an elasticised inner cuff that closes around the top of the boot to stop snow getting into your boots. Some pants do this with an elasticised outer cuff, but this looks dorky.

Pants should be high waisted enough to overlap the parka to provide a weather seal with the parka (unless you are so cool that your pants have to be half way down to your knees.)

Some pants have zippered vents on the inside of the thigh for ventilation.

Braces are great for holding your pants up, but can mean getting almost totally undressed to go to the bathroom. Particularly for women, a belt is more convenient.

Washing and care is the same as for parkas.

Parkas

What to look for in one

  • Waterproof and breathable Particularly in warmer snow areas, such as Australian resorts, a waterproof outer layer is vital as the conditions tend to be wetter because of the warmth. Colder areas, with drier snow can get away with less waterproofness although no one gets miserable with equipment that is more effective than conditions require. Breathability is important because as you exercise you sweat and, if the sweat cannot escape, it condenses and you get wet from the inside. Manufacturers have developed waterproof and breathable fabrics or coatings that stop the water getting in, and let the sweat out. They do this on droplet size (water vapour from sweat has smaller droplets than liquid water, so can pass through smaller holes) and a water repellent coating on the exterior surface.
A waterproof and breathable outer layer will make you a lot more comfortable. Fabrics are rated, typically with 2 numbers in the thousands. One is for waterproofness, and the other for breathability. In both cases, the higher the number the more effective the fabric (and, usually, the higher the price). A garment with a waterproof rating of 5000 should be waterproof for years for the average user if looked after. Higher breathability is best, a plastic raincoat may be super waterproof but wont breath leaving you hot and sweaty.
  • Sealed Seams There is little point in having a waterproof garment if the waterproofing is pierced by thousands of tiny holes caused when needles stitch the panels of the garment together. Water will also penetrate where the join is as the waterproof membrane cannot be continuous across the join. Manufacturers overcome this by placing sealant over the seams on the inside of the garment. The sealant is either a narrow tape (about 1.5 cm wide) glued over the seam on the inside or, less often, a line of gunk that looks like silicon sealant along the seam. You will be able to see the seam sealing with a shell, but it will probably be hidden by insulation with a padded parka. Seam sealing is almost 100% effective, but it can fail. There is some logic in buying a garment with the minimum number of panels to reduce the number of seams and therefore reduce the possibility of failed seam sealing.
  • Insulated or Shell? A shell is a waterproof and windproof garment without padding for insulation. Many people like them because they can control temperature by layering, without taking the insulating qualities of the garment into account. An insulated parka means one less item of clothing. Personally, I am a great fan of shells. An insulated parka can be too hot for spring skiing, where a shell may be just right. If you are getting cold you can always add a layer.
An apparent compromise is shells with linings that can be zipped in or out. Superficially, these look like a great idea, but practically they are no different to a shell with a separate insulating layer.
Shells are more useful away from the snow.
  • Hoods & Collars A good hood or collar gives you a place to hide in bad weather. A good hood is one that gives you protection but does not impede visibility. There are no magic fixes - try before you buy. A hood with a stiffened peak, either with additional fabric or a wire insert, above the face gives additional protection from falling snow. Some parkas have hoods that are attached by zips or press studs, others have hoods that tuck into a pouch in the collar. Both systems work. The best hoods I have had are detachable because (I think) there are no compromise for volume when folded. On the other hand, it is easy to lose a detachable hood (although I have a pocket in my boot bag where all stuff like this goes). A good collar is one that is high enough to tuck your nose into. The secret is minimising exposed skin. Some collars, and most hoods, have drawstrings to tighten the apertures and stop wind and precipitation penetrating. The collar should be big enough that you can fit a neck gaiter inside it without the collar being uncomfortably tight.
  • Effective Wrist Closures Another thing that stops the weather getting in. Make sure the closures at the wrist are a tight but comfortable fit on your wrist. Some people close the wrist of the parka over their gloves. If you think that this might be you make sure that there is enough room for this as well. Most wrists are elasticised with a velcro adjustment.
  • Pockets You can't have too many, or pockets that are too big. Look at whether there are internal (inside the main zip) and external pockets. Make sure that there is at least a flap of cloth, if not a velcro closure, over the zip on each external pocket. Any gap is a way for water to breach the seal of the parka. Some parkas have special pockets for MP3 players, others for water bottles. If it is important to you these things are important. On the other hand, the more exterior pockets you have the more gaps exist for the penetration of moisture.
  • Storm Flaps These are cloth closures on the main zip. They can be in front of the zip, or one can be behind (although the flap behind is less efficient) One flap will not be enough. Two overlapping flaps are necessary to keep weather out.
  • Powder Skirts An elasticised internal skirt inside the parka near the bottom. They form a seal around the top of the pants to prevent snow getting up inside the parka. If you think you will be skiing deep powder, or fall a lot at high speed these matter. Some parkas do not have an internal skirt, but have an elasticised drawstring at the waist. This performs a similar function, although a separate skirt is probably more effective as the elastic sits lower down.
  • Pit Zips Zipped vents under the armpit. Useful to control ventilation, and thus temperature.

There is such a thing as a perfect parka. I have had two, one made by Far West, a Vernon, BC company, and my present parka by Marmot. But it has taken me 35 years of good and bad decisions to know what I really need.

Washing

You can wash parkas/pants/ski suits but just be careful. NEVER dry clean. When washing use the gentlest option your machine has and zip up all zips/tags etc before starting. Do an extra rinse cycle at the end and you can usually tumble dry on a mild setting.

As for detergents, some people recommend lux or the most mild detergent you can find but the best thing you can use is something like Nikwax or a special sports detergent for the fabric you are using. Many technical fabrics don't like lux and must be washed in synthetic only detergents. Goretex and Entrant do react differently so try to get something for your fabric. Nikwax is perfect for Goretex and you can get it at any outdoor specialty shop.

Poles or Stocks

The sticks that people carry in their hands. Their primary function is to assist in the timing of turns by rhythmic planting, and as a means of maintaining good body position. Poles have numerous secondary functions, such as whacking errant children, impromptu sword fights, pushing along flat bits, aids to the prevention of other people gaining unreasonable advantage in lift lines, forming crucifixes for the discouragement of vampires, handles for towing small children and stranded snowboarders and any number of other functions.

Poles come in various lengths. To work out the right length for you, put the handle on the ground with the tip pointing up. Grip the pole below the basket (between the basket and the handle) with the top of your hand touching the basket. The correct length for you is the pole where your forearm is parallel with the ground (or your upper arm and forearm form a right angle - same thing).

When you grip a pole put your hand through the strap from underneath. When you grasp the pole grip you should also grasp the strap. This means that the strap runs across the back of your hand. As you push with the pole, the strap tightens, meaning that when you push the strap is holding your hand to the pole. It means that you have a firm hold without the need for gripping too hard.

Skis

The long thin things on your feet that make sliding possible

Skis come in a bewildering variety of length, width, separate widths of tip, waist and tail, longitudinal stiffness, torsional stiffness and, of course, colour. There are a variety of gizmos added to skis including flashing lights, vibration dampeners, torsion bars, magic shapes and whatever else the marketing department comes up with. The only good news is that colour does not affect performance, nor, I suspect, do many of the gizmos.

As a general proposition soft (more flexible) and shorter skis deliver easier turns and faster progression for beginners. As your ability increases stiffer and longer skis deliver better performance and control. Softer skis tend not to hold an edge at speed resulting in lack of precision in turns. There are exceptions to this rule, such as park skis and specialised powder skis.

The ideal way to buy skis is to demo them before you buy. Many ski shops located in resorts have a stock of skis of various brands that they will let you try before you buy. This allows a direct comparison. You will generally pay a hiring fee, but if you end up buying this fee is almost always deducted from your purchase price.

When you are demoing do not go overboard with the number of skis you try. Talk to the ski shop about what you want and listen to their recommendations. It is hard to remember the characteristics of more than 3 or 4 skis each day. Try to ski each ski on the same runs so your comparison is as accurate as possible, although you should remember that snow conditions will change over the day and that as you get more tired your technique may deteriorate which will affect your perception of the ski. Once you have narrowed your choice to a couple try those two again, unless one ski is an absolute standout.

You may hear references to "shaped" (or carve, or parabolic) and "straight" skis. This refers back to a revolution in ski design that happened in the early to mid 1990s. The change was an increase in sidecut (the difference between the tip and tail measurements, and the waist measurement). At the same time skis became shorter. The additional sidecut made skis easier to turn, and made carving easier. Straight skis are the old style skis. Compared to the newer ones they look straight although they all have some sidecut. There was resistance to the change from old farts, but that argument was lost long ago. No manufacturer makes straight skis any more, except for racing.

Powder skis are fat. Big wide, soft, flexible boards. They tend to have not much side cut, but rely on the flex of the ski, and angulation, to turn within the snow. Turns on powder skis tend to be wider radius. Generally only worth getting if you ski NZ club fields or powder-rich northern hemisphere ski areas.

Ski Bindings

The bits of machinery that connect your boots to your skis. Bindings perform two important and mutually exclusive functions. The first is to keep you connected to your skis for as long as possible. The second is to disconnect you from the skis when the forces developed in a fall are likely to hurt you. The basic way they achieve this is spring loading, so that they release when the force of a fall exceeds the force of the spring.

Different skiers have different heights, weights and abilities. The force of the spring is adjusted to compensate for this. The likely forces are calculated and set out in a table, and the bindings set accordingly. Unless you are reasonably knowledgeable this should be done by a trained technician.

Ski bindings also incorporate brakes. These are retractable arms that tuck away under the boot when the boot is in the binding. If there is not a boot in the binding the arms project below the running surface of the ski and (generally) prevent sliding. Brakes are not 100% effective, and skis should still be placed across the fall line when not on your feet.

One tip is that, if you eject from your bindings in deep snow so that the ski is under the surface and not immediately visible, your ski will almost certainly be just above or near the top of the impact crater. Use a pole or ski to chop downwards into the snow. Eventually you will hit the missing ski, which can then be dug out.

Ski Boots

The clunky plastic things on your feet. They are clunky to ensure that the force and position of your leg is transferred precisely to your skis so you can turn when and where you want.

Depending on how well they fit, boots (regardless of brands) can either be torture devices or so bloody comfortable that you forget you are wearing them. To ensure comfort, you should spend a bit of time with a good bootfitter who will look at your feet and put you into boots that suit your foot shape and ability level. Different brands of boot, and models within brands, are made on different lasts and suit different foot shapes. The only thing that matters is the fit. Whether or not your mate likes a particular brand is irrelevant, because you will have a different foot shape. Be honest with your bootfitter. The bootfitter could not give a rats about how good a skier you are, and just wants to do a professional job and put you into the right boots for you. They also have a financial interest in not having you come back under their fit guarantee. Adjusting boots is an expense.

Most reputable ski shops will offer a fit guarantee which allows you to return to the shop an unlimited number of times for adjustment until the boot is comfortable. Comfort in the shop does not necessarily mean comfort on the hill. This is because the shop is nice and warm thus causing your foot to expand a bit. While on the actual ski slopes, it's wet and cold thus making your feet shrink in size. Trust your bootfitter here, but if they are uncomfortable when you ski take them back to get them fixed. A good bootfitter has an arsenal of tweaks and fiddles to make boots comfortable, including packing, padding and, in extreme cases, blowing the shell out. Notwithstanding the availability of the tweaks it is better if they are not necessary.

There is a strong argument to buy on snow rather than a shop off snow, but only if the shop has a decent range of boots to choose from and has an experienced fitter. The key to this is still to find a good boot fitter and that you are there for at least a week. This way you can get the boot fitted and adjusted to your foot then go out and ski in it and take it back a day or two later and get more adjustments made to it if necessary. Any shop that doesn't offer this free should be avoided. Boots like all shoes tend to pack down and wear in a bit so how they feel on day 0 (in the shop) and after day 3 can be different and if you are on snow you can get this sorted then and there rather than skiing in pain for a week and then going back into a shop later and maybe not going back out in your boots again for weeks (or months!). A weekend isn't really long enough to achieve this.

One thing that is almost always worth having is customised footbeds - individually shaped foot supports for under your feet. These improve both comfort and the boot performance and cannot be recommended highly enough.

One, apparently counter-intuitive, tip is that if your shins hurt try tightening your top two buckles. Often sore shins are caused by boots rubbing against the shin. If the buckles are tight, there is less rubbing. Another tip is to make sure your bottom 2 buckles over the arch of your foot and toe are so loose they almost come off. These are only there to ensure the boot holds its basic shape and are easier (possible) to get on. If you tighten them you will pinch the nerve to your toes and this results in numb toes. If a boot is too narrow across the area just behind the toes known as the metatarsal heads you will feel cramps and eventually a calcium build up in the form of a painful lump will appear on the metatarsal heads.

Skins

Skins are tight fitting compression sports wear that are designed to apply a balanced and accurate surface pressure over specific body parts, this triggers an acceleration of blood flow, which in turn increases oxygen delivery to the working muscles to enhance their performance. The circulation improvements also help the body to eliminate Lactic acid and other metabolic wastes. The Skins are also designed to wrap around key muscle groups to reduce muscle movement and focus the direction of muscle movement, this wrapping combined with the compression dramatically reduce muscle vibration, resulting in less soft tissue damage and muscle soreness.

 You wear them while you are skiing and that evening to help prevent lactic acid build up.  Most people that wear them swear by them and claim they don't seize up the day after like they used to and claim they are the best single purchase they ever made to improve the enjoyment of their ski holidays.  You regularly see professional sports people training with them on.  An indication of the effectiveness of skins is that, if you have some residual soreness in the morning, this soreness disappears or is noticeably reduced when you put skins on in the morning.

Skins are awesome. They are so good that, if your muscles still hurt in the morning, the hurt almost always disappears after you put your skins on. On the other hand, I now wear undies, skins, thermals and a shell. One learns to keep one's legs crossed.

Skins have NO thermal properties so should not be used as a replacement to thermals in cold climates.

("Skins" is also a term for the nylon bristles which stick to the underside of AT skis to climb steep hills.)

Snowboards

Snowboards have been around since the late 80's. The first boards were made in an attempt to bring the feeling of surfing to the mountains. For a run down on the history, have a look at [1]. The modern board was derived though the adoption of various ski technologies to create what was esentially a single ski. Some of the founding work on this was done by people like Jake Burton, Tom Sims, Jack Barfoot, whose names you will still see as brands of board companies.

Snowboards today have as wide a range of models as skis do. You can get them for freeriding, big lines, park and pipe, carving (racing) at the high end, and in beginner and intermediate models. The difference between them is normally tortional rigidity, flex patterns and sidecut.

Bindings are attached through screws, which are either placed in two parallel strips (called 4x4 pattern) or a trianglar/diamond pattern (used just about exclsuively by Burton). Naturally, the bindings (or base plates of the bindings) need to match the hole pattern.

Boots are generally soft boots, except for race/carving boards which have plastic boots. There are many different styles of soft boots, oriented towards pipe/park and freeride. The pipe park boots tend to have softer flex and lower cut to allow more flexibility on takeoff and landing. Boots and either be single (where only the outside of the boot is done up) or double laced (where the outside and the inner of the boot are done up). There are various methods of securing the boot, ranging from straps to laces to chord and dial systems.

Bindings normally come with 2 sets of straps attached to a base with a high/back. The high back allows application of weight to the heel side edge. The starps are non releaseable and generally use a ratchet system to secure the boot to the binding. There also also other binding systems like clicker (which you can step into the binding though a cleat in the bottom of the boot) and flow (where the hjighback pulls down to allow the boot to slide in.

Snowshoes

Snowshoes are designed to allow you to walk in soft snow without sinking in. After years of only having a few brands available, there are now over half a dozen brands on sale in Australia, so shop around. There are two main types of snowshoe. The first is the plastic plate style with a fixed heel which is best for snow on terrain that isn't too steep. The best known model is the Australian made Yowie Agility. Some American companies make racing models and these are beginning to appear in Australia.

The second type are the aggressive, heavily cramponed snowshoes with an external frame and a free heel binding. You can go just about anywhere with these including ice and steep grades. Examples are some models from Tubbs and the MSR Lightning.

Then there are compromises between these two styles, allowing limited mobility on steeper grades (although not ice) while being less cumbersome on flat terrain. The best known in Australia is the MSR Denali, which is a plastic plate with a free heel and a little extra cramponing.

Always use poles with snowshoes or you will move like Frankenstein's monster. Adjustable poles are especially useful as you can make them shorter for going uphill and longer for downhill.

Socks

There is a temptation to assume that thicker socks are warmer. This is not so. There are several disadvantages to thick socks.

  • They can often bunch up in the boot, causing pressure points.
  • They are less precise in transmitting foot angle to the boot and ski.
  • They can get sweaty, damp and uncomfortable.
  • They are not really any warmer.

Most experienced skiers wear thin socks. You can spend a fortune on "specialised" socks for skiing, but, in this contributor's opinion, the cost benefit equation makes these unnecessary (assuming there is in fact a benefit).

Mountaineering equipment

There are two main types of Axe. ‘Ice Axes’ other wise known as ‘Walking axes’ are all you will need on introductory trips. A 70 cm shaft means they can be used as a walking stick in your uphill hand and easily swung around to self arrest if you slip. The second type is the shorter handled ‘Ice Tools‘ which to some are known as ‘climbing axes’ as it avoids confusion between the two, with a much more aggressively angled blade. These are really just for serious climbing with ropes, harnesses and ice screws for protection. These are avaliable with both an ‘Adze‘ and a ‘Hammer‘, when buying it is best to get one of each.

Crampons stop your feet slipping on steep snow and ice. They can be loosely defined by the number of points they have. 'Instep' crampons are attached to the instep of your boot and are often called '4 points' even if they have more. They are fun and cruisey and great for messing around in. '6 points' are a bit more serious and are attached under the ball of the foot. ‘10 points’ are the full length of a boot and typically have 6 points under the ball of the foot and 4 under the heel. 12 points are similar, but have extra forward pointing spikes for serious climbing. Be careful not to gash your leg with these more full on crampons.

Cheaper crampons are often stamped out of a few pieces of metal, then welded together and bent to shape, whereas quality crampons are assembled from a lot of separate components. For most Australian purposes, either is fine.

If you have 12, 13 or 14 point crampons, you should wear them with rigid boots as they are not designed to flex under the arch of the foot. If you don’t have fairly stiff boots, crampons can fall off, bend or break. If you’re keen, there are specialised climbing boots, which come as either high quality leather or plastic. The leather is the better performer in most cases but it is colder to wear and has a tendency to get wet then freeze up. The cons of plastic are that they do not always fit 100%, so in most cases you are risking a shocking trip if you do not fit them well.

Thermals

Avoid cotton ones as they will just get wet as they trap the moisture, apart from that you can get wool (merino is excellent if you can afford it) or silk ones. Polypropylene ones aren't as warm. Thermals should be snug fitting (not loose like a T-shirt) and hug the body without being too tight. They will absorb the moisture and take it away from your skin keeping you warmer and dryer.

Thermals should not be mistaken for skins which have no thermal properties.

Tuning

It is important to keep bases flat and waxed, and edges sharp. You can leave your skis with a ski shop to have them tuned, or do it yourself. A basic tuning kit consists of:

  • A file guide that allows you to sharpen to the desired side edge bevel angle
  • A Chrome file
  • A medium diamond file
  • A waxing iron
  • A plastic scraper
  • A horse hair brush
  • Wax the that suits the snow temperature of the day.

A guide to how to tune can be found at Tuning Skis and Board

Where to Buy or Hire Equipment

You can elect to hire or buy on snow or offsnow. Each has their advantages and disadvantages and you will find advocates of each.

Recommendations here probably relate directly to those that own those shops!

Hiring

First a first time snow experiece, it probably doesn't matter too much where you hire your gear. Close to the mountain may be a good idea - if you have a multi day trip you can get your equipment changed if it is not fitting correctly. In subsequent trips you will have a better idea of what you need to get.

The price of the hire generally scales with how good the gear is, and how close to the mountain it is. Multi day hires are cheaper per day as time goes on. It is also worth seeing if on mountain hire places will allow you to exchange skis of boards if you change your mind half way though the holiday.

If you are a frequent skier and have children who are growing at a rate of knots, have a look into hiring for a season.

What Do I Buy First?

Skiing 
Buying a full set of skis and boots can be an expensive exercise (poles are cheap - the only good news). You do not have to buy the whole kit at once.
There is no doubt that boots are the first things you should buy. The difference in comfort and performance from hire boots to your own, properly fitted, footbedded boots is beyond description. It will be a revelation.
Having your own skis is a cost/benefit equation (with a bit of snobbish irrationality thrown in). Some people never buy their own skis. The cost of hiring over the life of a pair of skis may be less than the cost of buying. This is particularly so if you are a one week a year skier. On the other hand, having your own skis means that you will be skiing on skis that you bought and which suit you. You will also avoid the hassle of hiring each time you go skiing. What is available for hire may not be suitable, even if you hire premium gear. If a shop will cooperate, hiring demo skis can work. If you do hire from the right place you may be skiing on the latest gear every year. Seasonal hire is becoming popular, this is where you rent equipment for the full season and return it at the end of the season, a guide to price is usually equivalent to 10 days hire, seasonal rental equipment is usually brand new equipment.
Boarding 
Look for a well priced package, these will cost you somewhere between $550 and $800 and should include boots, board and bindings.

Little doodaddy things that make life a little bit better

  • Goggle Squeegees Some gloves have a rubber blade, like a window cleaner but smaller, for wiping precipitation from goggles. You can also get similar things that hang off a garment. Not strictly necessary - of course not. But who hasn't tried to clean stuff off the front of goggles with your glove? Found in: ski shops.
  • Boot base protector things One brand is Cat tracks. They are rubber treads that fit over the bottoms of your boots when walking around. It is important for your safety that the boot/binding interface works properly. Worn boots can affect this. If you expect to do a lot of walking off snow (as can happen in Thredbo) these may be a good idea. Found in: ski shops.
  • Silk Balaclava Takes up almost no space in a pocket or backpack and weighs nothing, but when things get cold and windy they provide an effective insulating layer on your head. They fit under helmets and beanies without problems. Found in: ski shops, army disposal stores.
  • Neck Gaiters Tubes of fleece fabric that you pull over your head and which sit around your neck. They help weather sealing around the neck. You lose a significant amount of heat through your neck as the arteries are near the surface. A neck gaiter reduces this heat loss. Finally, you can pull them up over your face to protect your face from the weather. The best gaiters are pink. They just are. Trust me on this. Found in: ski shops.
  • Neoprene Face Mask Another thing for face protection in extreme conditions. These are made to wrap around your face and secure with velcro at the back. Found in: ski shops, motorbike shops.
  • Sunscreen & lip balm in one package Doh, but it is unique to Australia. Found in: ski shops.
  • Split ring for lift ticket Completely useless, and resorts do not permit their use. However, if you need to shift a ticket from one parka to another during the day if you feel it necessary to change for fashion reasons, a split ring might (theoretically) make it easier. On the other hand, if a lifty picks it up, you will have a trip to the ticket office to do it properly this time. Another idea: Tie the ticket on your snow pants... Found in: Hardware shop
  • Windscreen Scrapers Credit cards, Medicare Cards and drivers' licences are great for scraping frost and snow off car windows in the morning, but service stations and ski hires in the snowfields areas sell coloured windscreen scraper jobbies for a few bucks that have a variety of scrapers (plastic, rubber, teeth) that are something bigger to grip that do a great job. Found in: ski shops, places where you buy chains.
  • Locks Sometimes people "inadvertently" pick up gear that is not their own. There are a variety of types of lock to encourage the inadvertence toward some one else's gear. Found in: Surf shops, ski shops, hardware shops
  • Inner Gloves If you suffer from cold hands you can buy lightweight gloves that fit inside your normal gloves for an extra layer of insulation. Found in: Outdoor shops, ski shops, army disposals.
  • Chemical Warmers These are small plastic bags with chemicals that provide a warming reaction when activated. They are small, and fit in a pocket, but can be a source of warmth if your hands or feet get cold. Found in: ski shops
  • Powder Tapes Ribbons of brightly coloured tape that attach to your bindings. The tape is tucked up inside your cuff. If you release from your skis it can often be difficult to find the skis if they are buried in powder. The tapes show up on the surface, making it easy to find the ski. They are a bit of a pain in the bum. Your skis are most likely to be near the top of your impact crater, so this is a good spot to start looking. Found in: ski shops, specialist outdoor shops (mainly overseas).
  • Two way radio Cheaper than calling someone on your mobile all the time. Found in: electronics shops
  • Zip lock bags Good for carrying phones, wallets, snacks in on wet days. Found in: Supermarkets
  • Not Wax Good for those spring days where the snow is so wet is is slowing you down. You can carry this stuff in your pocket and wipe it on the base of your skis or board for a better ride. It is a teflon based lubricant. Don't go substiuting WD40 for this stuff - WD40 contains other compounds that will damage your base. Found in: ski shops
  • Camelback Drinking when and where you please is a great thing to keep the stamina up - especially on those warm spring days. Found in: Outdoor shops, bike shops