Gear Review: Last call for 2023 ski gear

Ski season may be over, but it’s the best time to plan next season.
Kimberly Nicoletti/Courtesy photo

While most people are revving up for their summer activities, as a die-hard skier, I’m still trekking’ over to Arapahoe Basin whenever I can, to carve out the last turns of the season. But whether your head is in summer or winter sports, this is the time to gear up for the 2023-24 winter season, with great sales on this past season’s skis, snowboards, and soft goods.

DPS Pagoda skis

DPS Pagoda skis
Courtesy photo

“These skis are made for chargin’, and that’s just what they’ll do. One of these days these skis are gonna carve all over you.”

I spontaneously started singing that silly version of Nancy Sinatra’s original hit to myself when I sat down to write about these babies because it speaks to the attitude of DPS’ Pagoda 90 RPs (165 cm length). They’re playful, pivoty, and strong.

I’m one of those powder snobs who heads home once I can’t get fresh face (or leg) shots. But sometimes, you have to tolerate cut-up tracks while waiting for patrollers to open more glistening, virgin terrain. During the last week of April, I had a chance to ski a couple spring powdery days, ranging from 4 inches to about 8-9 inches, and I discovered these skis that powerfully, and stably, cut through chopped up snow — even in spring conditions that begin to set up around noon. That alone makes them high on my list; if I can have more fun — or at least feel more stable and safe — on leftovers while waiting for more freshies to open, I’m a happy skier.

My husband, who seems to think 1980s powder 8 competitions will soon come back into fashion (We can only hope), drives me to pump out tight, short-radius turns for our couple’s “signature” on powder days; so I immediately began pressing them into tight turns through powder on my first run. Initially, it felt like more effort than the Nordica Santa Ana 88s I usually ski (no matter what the conditions or fresh snow depth), but I found that, like any “relationship” you build, the skis and I quickly reached a satisfying rhythm. The signature I left in the snow was only slightly more open than my usual, and, while carving them, the Pagodas helped me feel stable on the somewhat frozen crud underneath that first 4-inch powder day I skied them, which was another big plus.

On groomers, the Pagodas are just a blast. Like my opening tune mentioned, they want to charge. Though my husband and I used to charge a little faster in years past, since we’ve reached a certain age (and a certain number of sports-related injuries), we tend to back off speed as a daily adrenaline fix. But these skis urged us to let go and fly, much like we watch the 20- and 30-somethings do these days. They have the power to erase years from your age as you carve fast GS turns. They require a bit of pressure, or roll from your ankles, to put on edge, but once they’re on, it’s exhilarating.

The skis also surprised me with easy turns in bumps, making them, in my mind, a great all-mountain ski.

The optional PHANTOM Permanent Waxless Glide you can order is an absolute must. Even though piles of wax fill our garage bench, I rarely maintain my bases, and I especially don’t match temperatures with wax. So in my mind, PHANTOM’S eco-friendly, one-time application, and permanent waxless base treatment ranks right up there with a miracle. I skied it on a 22-degree day and a 50-degree day, from winter powder to melting slush, and it maintained its fast glide. The patent-pending polymer technology delivers amazing glide performance (So much so that, I admit, I got quite impatient with people who slowed down my traverse on A-Basin’s East Wall, but I’d say practicing patience is more productive than waxing nightly).

Here’s how my husband described his overall experience of the Pagodas:

“In years past, when I attended the SIA on-snow demos, one of the brands I always liked skiing was DPS. Recently, I tried the Pagoda 94 C2 in a 171 cm length. Though I own every type of ski, from slalom race skis to a super-fat 134 underfoot powder ski, I always prefer one ski that I can ski 95% of the time. This is what led me to the Pagoda 94.

“My first impression was the smooth and stable feeling of the ski throughout the turn, from initiation through release. This ski wanted to go faster than I normally ski but with this extra speed came a feeling of confidence and control. I tend to crank out short-radius turns as my main style of skiing. The Pagoda 94s want to open those up a little more. But with each successive run, I found myself being more aggressive and being able to carve tighter turns with a higher edge angle on groomers, while also being able to be playful with them off piste. If you’re looking for that everyday ski and want to ski anywhere on the mountain, the Pagoda 94 is a great contender.”

Due to their unique construction (one made completely in the U.S.), comprised of ash and aspen woods and two layers of carbon fiber, the Pagodas deliver a smooth ride, allowing the skier, rather than the snow conditions, to claim control. As DPS explains: “Its unique, horizontally-layered core quiets unpleasant inconsistencies felt in less-than-perfect snow, while allowing the electricity of carbon to elevate the senses during the precious moments of soft snow euphoria.”

“Are you ready skis? Start chargin’.”

DPS is currently running an end-of-season, 30% off sale, plus free shipping over $100. Pagoda 90 RPs and 94 C2s are $1,084.30 at dpsskis.com.

Backcountry’s Cottonwoods GORE-TEX Jacket

Backcountry’s Cottonwoods GORE-TEX Jacket.
Backcountry/Courtesy photo

I’m used to skiing in soft jackets that allow for plenty of flex, but I quickly got used to this more rigid style because it has every other feature I could possibly want.

With its super-durable, three-layer construction made of a GORE-TEX membrane, nylon with DWR treatment, and polyester tricot, it’s one of Backcountry’s best-selling jackets. Among the reasons for its popularity includes its versatility; its waterproof and windproof qualities make it the perfect jacket for both sunny and stormy days.

I joke that some strange and twisted fate has resulted in my two favorite sports (skiing and figure skating) requiring me to spend the majority of my life in frigid environments, while my body temperature seems to feel at least 10-20 degrees colder than everyone else I know. It’s not uncommon for me to wear four layers under a jacket, even on 30-some-degree days. Wearing this jacket was an alleluia moment, when I actually had to vent accumulated heat by opening the underarm zippers on a 25-degree day — while wearing only two layers under the jacket. Now that’s freedom.

Its updated fit profile honestly looks great, with a clean, sleek aesthetic.

A removable powder skirt keeps your belly warm (Yes, I have had snow tickle my belly, which, I can’t say is an awful experience, but, on cold days, it’s best to keep the cold jolts out), and the built-in, fitted hood extends well over a helmet, protecting you on the most blustery of days.

I’m a big pocket person; I need to stash a phone, an iPod if I’m concerned about my phone’s battery holding up on brutal days, an energy bar or two, and my pass. This jacket is perfect; in addition to an inner mesh and an inner zippered pocket for phones and iPods, it provides two large external side pockets, and, my favorite: a lower sleeve pocket for easy pass scanning.

Note: Sizing runs large, so order accordingly. Backcountry.com is offering up to 40% off its products. Depending on color, this jacket ranges from $239.40 (seafoam) and $299.25 (fjord) to $399 (caribou and black).

Patagonia Powder Town Pants

Patagonia Powder Town Pants.
Patagonia/Courtesy photo

The first thing that stands out about these pants is the softness; they are literally the softest ski pants I’ve ever encountered, and in my book, that translates to feeling more flowy during harsh, cold winters. I tried the women’s Powder Town Pants, but Patagonia also offers a unisex version.

In addition to classic black (which I love, since it provides the most options for jacket coordination), the color palette includes pinyon green, sequoia red, sisu brown, smolder blue and wavy blue, so you don’t have to look like everyone else on the mountain. Sizes range from XXS to XXL.

These fully-PFC-free pants use an H2No performance standard two-layer shell along with Thermogreen (100% recycled polyester insulation) to deliver warm waterproof and windproof qualities, while remaining very breathable. Gaiters seal out snow, while tough scuff guards protect the legs and hem. Overall, the fabric repels dirt and pet hair extremely well.

On warm days, opening zippers along the outer thighs efficiently releases heat. They also contain two handwarmer pockets and one thigh pocket, along with a concealed RECCO reflector. And, they’re Fair Trade Certified sewn.

Patagonia’s website offers a size and fit guide, which asks a series of questions, from height, weight, and age to waist and stomach build (you can choose three options on the latter). Pants come in short, 30-inch, or regular, 32-inch lengths. Somehow, I missed the questionnaire and ordered sizing off measurements. My mediums fit nice, but they have enough room for growth in the waist and butt, which I’m hoping I’ll never need. Turns out, had I been savvy enough to actually fill out the questionnaire based on “thousands of similar shoppers” and whether they returned the size or not, it’s a 72% bet that I wear a small. That’s a user-error, not Patagonia’s fault, but do note that I usually take medium-sized ski pants, including the Orthovox (see below); so, when in doubt, perhaps order smaller. They do have an adjustable Velcro waist to cinch in the sizing, which definitely helps, as well as belt loops.

$269 on Patagonia.com.

Ortovox 3L Ortler Pants and Ortovox Fleece Light Short Pants

Ortovox 3L Ortler Pants in powder blue.
Ortovox/Courtesy photo

Since its inception in 1980, Ortovox has focused on fair, sustainable products. It aims to reach complete climate neutrality (which it already does with its Fleece Light Short Pants) by 2024, by calculating its carbon footprint, implementing solutions to avoid or reduce carbon emissions, and offsetting the carbon dioxide surplus with certified projects.

Its 3L Ortler Pants are functional and fashionable for mountain enthusiasts, from alpine climbing to freeriding.

Their lightweight design lends itself well to spring skiing or climbing. Though they fit “snug,” they don’t feel snug — they just look good; it’s easy to move and bend in them.

The DERMIZAX NX membrane from Toray, the company’s highest-performing membrane, ensures wind proofing, waterproofing, and breathability. Cordura protects against sharp ski or rock edges, while integrated, adjustable gaiters and adjustable ankle cuffs keep lower legs and feet dry and comfortable.

The inner liner and waistband is soft and comfortable against even bare skin, and the adjustable waistband allows for ample adjustment and roominess.

Nearly full-length, two-way side zippers make them easy to put on or take off. This is an incredibly unexpected bonus for me as a (recreationally) competitive figure skater. I’ve been looking for a pair of pants to keep me warm at competitions, when I’m shivering in a cold rink, dressed in paltry tights and a little dress. I can wear these pants while waiting to go on the ice and never take my skates off between sitting around and skating.

When I initially felt the light weight of these three-layer pants, I suspected they wouldn’t keep me warm (see bad karma above); but, turns out, with the Ortovox Fleece Light Short Pants under another pair of fleece leggings, I was completely toasty on my 22-degree outing. The next day, I simply wore Ortovox’s short pants and stayed surprisingly warm as 8-9 inches of cold, wintery powder hit my legs. Finally: redemption!

The outer fabric isn’t quite as repellant to dirt as the Patagonia pants are, but they don’t attract dog hair at all. And, the dual-color design looks super cute on — photos don’t do this fashionable design justice. Color choices include: petrol blue, pacific green and coral.

Online they’re $450 at ortovox.com, or shop locally at Ute Mountaineer or Performance Ski in Aspen (Call first for availability).

Ortovox Fleece Light Short Pants.
Ortovox/Courtesy photo

As far as the Ortovox Fleece Light Short Pants, why three-quarter underlayers didn’t emerge sooner in the ski industry I don’t know (My husband used to cut his longies himself).

Again, the softness and warmth factor are what really stand out about these pants. Orthovox clothing revolves around using fair wool, ensuring that farmers manage their land sustainably and treat animals well by regularly visiting the farms.

The lightweight, fine Tasmanian merino wool fibers make the fit close-fitting yet comfortable. Inside, a special waffle structure, which remains soft against the skin, ensures optimal moisture wicking. The thick elastic waistband is surprisingly comfortable; it doesn’t choke your waist — you barely know it’s there.

$130 on ortovox.com, comes in petrol blue, winetasting and dark pacific.

Backcountry Ski & Snowboard Boot Bag

Backcountry Ski & Snowboard Boot Bag.
Backcountry/Courtesy photo

You can rent skis or a board if the airline loses your luggage (or you opt not to slug them around), but not skiing or riding in your own boots is enough to ruin the even best-planned mountain trips. Backcountry’s Ski & Snowboard Boot Bag separates damp boots from clothing, a computer, or other accessories within its two compartments, one of which provides a base and venting for boots. However, at a measurement of 13x24x11 inches (and weighing 2 pounds 12 ounces empty), it may or may not fly as a carry-on, as most airlines set limits around 14x22x9 inches. Some online reviewers state they had no issues fitting it in overhead on trips through Europe and even domestically.

Though I haven’t been able to test it as checked or carry-on luggage, the outer tarp materials seem to be able to hold up to even the worst checked-luggage handler, and tear-resistant lining makes it pretty impermeable to any sharp or otherwise aggressive gear you might pack in it.

Hefty, padded adjustable straps make your boots, helmet, and other necessities easily haulable as a backpack, though some might want a little more padding on the straps for extra comfort. Its sturdy back prevents boot tips from poking you while walking through airports or even to the locker room or while hauling all your stuff in it between your home and car. An added feature involves clips above the shoulder straps, which click into webbing loops of the matching Backcountry ski bag roller or hold things like mittens.

This boot bag accommodates plenty of extras, including water bottles on each outer side pocket. It comes complete with an inside goggle pocket with fleece lining to protect lens from scratches and a zippered mesh pocket, which can hold anything from cozy apres-ski slippers to passes and passports, a GoPro with accessories, or a few pairs of socks. The roomy helmet compartment is ultra-plush and padded, and ventilation eyelets support your boots in drying out during travel.

It doubles as a mat in the parking lot or back of your car when you fully unzip it, and dirt dusts right off of the material.

Get 20% off at backcountry.com; $159.20 for pika color and $199 for quartzite/basalt.

Order your gear now, and you can still try it out at the Basin (while also planning a little beachin’ party); the ski area plans to remain open until at least June 1. You can also cram last turns in at Loveland Ski Area until Sunday.

For more sales — up to 60% off — on ski and snowboard gear, visit evo.com.

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