You probably already knew that Colorado has a lot going on when it comes to winter recreation. After all, the state is home to world-class resorts like Vail, world-class events like the Dew Tour’s Breckenridge stop and world-class variety, with choices ranging from the down-home environment of Loveland and Eldora to the steeps of Telluride to the glamour of Aspen. Add in backcountry hut systems, snowshoeing in the Indian Peaks wilderness and ice climbing in Boulder Canyon, and you might wish for winter to last all year.
Well, maybe not.
But what you may not know is that the Centennial State is also home to a wide variety of companies that make some of the best outdoor gear on the planet. In fact, when it comes to winter sports, Colorado is a hotbed of action. According to surveys by the Snowsports Industry Association, more than 300 outdoor brands call Colorado home. They’re here for the same reasons you are: the amazing mountains, great weather, fantastic ski areas and the fact that when it comes to winter gear, Colorado is an ideal proving ground for new products and technology. Here are our picks for the best new products from Colorado’s rich ecosystem of local brands.
Liberty Skis’ CAIC Variant ($859)
Avon’s Liberty Skis partnered with the Boulder-based Colorado Avalanche Information Center to create a limited edition run (100 pairs only) of the company’s award-winning Variant 113 ski. Featuring custom graphics, a harder and faster Electra base and other tweaks, the sale of each ski benefits the avalanche forecasting and education work of the CAIC. The ski’s 113-mm footprint and rockered tip are perfect for our terrain and snow conditions, and best of all, you can order a pair of CAIC Variants directly from Liberty and have them shipped to your front door for free. More details are at www.libertyskis.com.
Point 6 Merino Wool Socks ($8-$15)
Based out of Steamboat Springs, Point 6 makes socks out of Merino wool. Merino is a de facto “super fiber” for socks. This natural material is renewable and has the benefits of offering moisture control and heat regulation while also being antimicrobial and machine washable. Comfortable, itch-free and highly durable, Point 6 makes socks that are sexy when it comes to performance and comfort, the perfect stocking stuffer for any season. See Point6.com.
Ace Sunglass by Zeal Optics ($169)
Here’s an innovation for you: the Ace sunglass from Zeal is produced from 100 percent U.S.-grown cotton. That’s right, your sunglasses can now be organic. Actually, it’s just the frames of Zeal’s Ace that are made using their cotton frame technology. But the lenses are cool, too. Zeal’s exclusive, plant-based e-llume lens provides protection from UVA, B and C, as well as blocking negative High Energy Visible (HEV) light, making Zeal’s Ace the greenest sunglass on the planet. See www.zealoptics.com.
Topo Designs Fleece Jacket ($129)
Boulder’s Topo Designs makes simple, functional products that range from basic computer bags that are too cool and clean to look like computer bags to their classic fleece jacket. With simple styling including a zippered chest pocket and a trim fit, this piece is fantastic on its own or as a base layer. It’s also made right here in Colorado. Available in three colors (teal, blue and brown) — and we love the old-school reinforced elbow patches.
Jager Women’s Jacket from Eider ($329)
Eider’s North American operations are based out of Lafayette, where they share space with Lafuma and Millet. For 2013-14 the brand returns with a sweet freeride-inspired skiing line of outerwear that includes the Jager jacket for the ladies. With a removable hood and powder skirt, armpit venting and Eider’s Defender waterproof/breathable fabric technology, this piece performs as well as it looks. See www.eider.com.
Storm split board from Venture Snowboards ($895)
Designed in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, the Storm is a freeride board that combines agility and stability (no small feat), making it ideal for Colorado’s big-mountain terrain. But the kicker is that the Storm’s splitboard capabilities means that it’s an ideal tool for those who want to push their riding beyond the lifts into the backcountry. The Storm separates in half, creating two “mini skis” that allow for uphill touring and travel across flats, but then clips back together so you can rip it up once you’re ready to ride. It’s a system that works: The Storm has won Backcountry Magazine’s 2010 Editors’ Choice Award and was named a Snowboarder Magazine “Best of Test” by Rocky Mountain retailers. More information is at www.venturesnowboards.com.
Float 32 Airbag Pack from Backcountry Access ($550)
Some gifts are better left unused. And this is one of them. However, this is also a gift that has the potential to save a life. Make no mistake, the biggest risk for folks who venture into Colorado’s backcountry are avalanches. Boulderbased Backcountry Access’ Float 32 pack is on the cutting edge of safety. The builtin airbags are triggered in an emergency and act like “floats” to keep a skier or snowboarder caught in an avalanche above the snow. The Float 32 pack isn’t the only item you should take into avalanche terrain — beacons, shovels and probes are also mandatory — but it provides cutting-edge safety technology with plenty of room to spare for an extra jacket and your lunch. See www.backcountryaccess.com.
10th Mountain Division Hut Association cabin in the woods ($33 per person per night)
Who wouldn’t want a cabin in the woods, with a wood-powered sauna, superlative views and great backcountry skiing? OK, so only the richest of the rich are lucky enough to bestow on the their loved ones the gift of a second home in the mountains. For the rest of us there’s the 10th Mountain Division Hut system. With 31 “residences” available across the state, including the Shrine Mountain Cabin, which features one of those wood-powered saunas for the end of your day, there’s plenty to choose from. Which is why booking a night for yourself and your loved one at one of these beautiful and remote locations is our winter sports gift of the season. Check availability at www.huts.org.
Outdoors accessories beyond Colorado
Orvis Helios 2 Rod ($795-$1,210)
Orvis staff took the Helios 2 down to Belize and put it to the test — they hauled in fish half as long as the rod itself, on casts that were just shy of 100 feet, thanks to the new Mirage V reel, which comes in the outfit with the Helios, all sub-three ounce rods six to 10 feet in length. After reeling in permit, tarpon and bonefish, some of which took them out to the backing (that’s the very end of the line, for you non-anglers), they kissed their silvery lips goodbye and released ’em back to the ocean. Now that’s a story worth wrapping up and giving this holiday season. See www.orvis.com.
Digital Motion Detection Camera ($75.95)
Maybe you don’t really want to know the traffic passing by your tent at night, but if you’re sure you’ve got someone on your list who won’t be scared back to the comfort of home (or perhaps lives in a home that has a few visitors they’d like to catch on candid camera), check out the Digital Motion Detection Camera from National Geographic. The remote camera system, triggered by heat and movement and weather-proof to take the elements, uses a 60-degree wide-angle lens to keep an eye out, 24 hours a day for up to 21 days on one set for four C batteries. See www.shop.nationalgeographic.com.
Dakota Multi-Tool Carabiner ($75)
Having a great multi-tool in the backcountry is always a good idea, but having a multi-tool that you can hook to your belt, backpack, tent or anywhere else is even better. This multi-tool from Dakota is available at Orvis. It includes a knife, scissors, compass, watch and ultrabright LED light.
Vapur Eclipse with microfilter ($55.95)
Not only can you roll up an empty Vapur water-bottle, making it the lightest, most practical way of getting a container up a climbing route or into the backcountry, now you can add a microfilter which will allow you to filter water you find along the way. This filter removes 99.9 percent of bacteria and protozoa, making the Vapur Eclipse with microfilter the planet’s most portable microbial water filter. This lightweight system is chemical-free, using hollow fiber membrane technology to purify water. Together the filter and bottle weigh just 2.7 ounces and can filter hundreds of liters of stream, river and lake water. So quench someone’s outdoor thirst safely this year with a Vapur bottle and filter. See www.vapur.us.
BioLite Holiday Bundle ($224.85)
You may have heard of — or even own — the BioLite CampStove, the stove that uses biomass (sticks, pine cones, pellets) for fuel and also charges your USB device, like a smartphone, but there are a couple of add-ons that make this system complete. If your budget is in the $130 range, just get the stove — it boils a liter of water in four and a half minutes, and there are never any fuel canisters to buy. But if you can afford to shell out a few more bones, check out the BioLite Holiday Bundle, which for $225 comes with the stove, the KettlePot (the stove fits neatly inside it) and the Portable Grill, which attaches to the stove.
NEMO Helio Pressure Shower ($99.95)
This is a pretty hot item this year, since it’s out of stock in some retail stores and even the company’s own website, but if you can find it, the NEMO Helio Pressure Shower is a welcome departure from traditional gravity-fed showers that sometimes deliver only a trickle. The NEMO version has a foot pump that you press periodically to provide five to seven minutes of strong water pressure, whether it’s for hosing down yourself, the dog’s paws, the dishes or some gear. It weighs less than a liter of water but features an 11-liter welded fabric water tank. And it doesn’t need to be suspended from a tree, it just sits on the ground and comes with a seven-foot hose.
Fox Reflex Gel Gloves ($12.99 – $32.95)
If you know someone who isn’t into biking, they’re probably considering getting into biking. And either way, lots of people on your list could benefit from the Fox Reflex Gel Gloves, some of Amazon.com’s top-rated gloves. Fox strikes a balance among a range of concerns and features with gloves: not too heavy, not too thin, not too rigid, not too large, not too snug. Add to that a soft surface on the back of the thumb for wiping one’s nose and gel pads in the palm to absorb and distribute pressure, and you’ve got some of the best-loved gloves on the market.
Fitbit ($59.95 – $129.95)
A lot of outdoor sports and activity involves quantifying. You should know, for instance, how long that hike is before you set off, or how low temperatures could get, or the rating of that climbing route you’re eyeing. With a Fitbit device, users will also know just how many calories they’re burning and how much ground they’re covering — as well as a host of other tracking tools. Fitbit sells wristbands and clip-on devices, some of which track stairs climbed and even quality of sleep. And if users tell Fitbit’s premium online tools about the food they eat, it’ll lay out their health patterns and progress in a simple, colorful design.