While gear testing wasn’t a stated goal when I started this blog, a cool thing happened. Columbia Sportswear Company stumbled across little ole’ MountainKidd.com and decided that I’m the kind of person that could test their new techy gear. After a three-second contemplation, I decided they were absolutely right and received a pretty sweet jacket system in the mail last week. In exchange, they wanted my honest feedback. While they didn’t stipulate that I blog about it, I actually had a great time putting it through the rigors with some pleasant surprises.
In my book, Columbia didn’t rate as anything approaching ‘technical’. Would it do the job? Kinda. Are there much better options? Absolutely. However, it would appear that they are sinking some serious dollars into R&D these days. The $270 Black Diamond Dash Parka™ I received was actually comprised of two pieces: a black, insulated layer and a waterproof/breathable shell. On first inspection, I was impressed. Actually, I thought, “THAT’S a Columbia??”. It has taped waterproof zippers, a beefy and functional powder skirt, and a ridiculously soft and cozy high collar with a functional freestyle fit. I had no idea that Columbia was so with it. But I still had to take it outside.
Sacrificing hugely, I concluded that a true test would involve driving over to Jackson to do some backcountry skiing. In the backcountry, the skier huffs and puffs up a mountain, sweating all the way, then virtually flies down all that hard-earned terrain in no time at all. Reasoning that this would be fairly rigorous conditions for a gear test, I set off to experience Jackson’s record-breaking early season snow in the name of work. Right.
On the drive over, the snow on Togwotee Pass was too good to pass up. Temps were in the teens with a breeze but the insulated layer with their much-touted omni-heat technology seemed to do its job. You’ve probably seen the advertisements for the “tiny silver dots that keep you 20% warmer”. I personally don’t think 20% sounds like a huge number to brag about, but whatever the silver dots were doing, I stayed plenty warm and appreciated the full pit zips in an insulated under layer (not that common).
The great thing about skiing on Togwotee is that not many people ski there. The horrible thing about skiing on Togwotee is that not many people ski there, which means you’re pretty much always breaking your own skin trail. With little pride in my early season ski fitness, I let the fiancee set the skin trail. I had no idea that he would set it so steep. Really, really stupid steep (see picture at above left).
The trail was so steep that the dogs actually spun-out and buried their hind legs. Twice. Like a rear-wheel drive pickup in soft snow, they tried to run faster and faster to get up past the steep corner of the skin trail. This only succeeded in digging their hole deeper and deeper. The 40-pound dog could be easily assisted, but my 60-pound Lab was another story. After the second time I made him ‘stay’ (demonstrating the value of a well-trained dog) to pass him and pack down the snow so he could leap onto an area that wouldn’t give way, I offered some helpful tips to the man setting the skin trail. They may not have been said in a helpful tone.
Soon, all was forgiven as we reaped the rewards of our labors- the sweet, sweet down. The snow could be lighter and fluffier, but it wasn’t bad. I zipped my shell over the insulated layer and had a happy ski down. See the snow piling up around my downhill knee? That’s a beautiful thing- no ‘cheese’ for the camera required. And I’ve concluded that Columbia makes some pretty cool gear- sure, the insulated piece could use a few improvements (like a zipper garage and a zippered pocket on the inside where a velcro one now lives) but the shell is pretty close to perfect and I didn’t freeze or get too hot and sweaty (quite a feat). Overall, the system passed my test with flying colors. And flying downhill is quite the place to be tested.
Life-Saving Avalanche Shoveling Technique: Make your friends watch it too… because it’s hard to shovel yourself out.