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Inside a Powderhound’s Backpack

While this is not the author of this story, it is a powderhound with a backpack nonetheless. Photo by Carl Frey courtesy of Winter Park. While this is not the author of this story, it is a powderhound with a backpack nonetheless. Photo by Carl Frey courtesy of Winter Park.

The sport of skiing is necessarily a gear-intensive one.

It just takes a lot of stuff to stay comfortable when you’re above 11,000 feet in winter and it’s -5 degrees Fahrenheit and snowing sideways. Having a pack with you can help you save money while youre on the slopes.

You may have recently read a blog post about how our resident ski mom packs for a day on the slopes with the kids. If not, check it out here:

Reading that got me thinking about what essentials I carry for a day of skiing, as a ski bum on a low budget with no kids who often hits the mountain solo in the middle of the week. I pack much lighter than our Mountain Sherpa blogger, but many of the essentials are the same.

I actually come with two bags – my skiing backpack and what I call my “base camp stash.” When I ski smaller areas like my home mountain of Wolf Creek, the stash stays in the car or in a cubby in the picnic area (at Wolf Creek, the building is known as “Base Camp.”) At bigger mountains, where returning to the parking lot may mean riding a bus and/or a gondola, I shell out a few bucks for a locker.

Then I ski.

A small hydration backpack: Skiing with a large backpack has never felt right to me. It throws me off-balance and is a pain on the lift. And like our Mountain Sherpa, I too have had a strap get caught on the chair. Unlike her, I fell and was dragged a few feet on my face.

So my pack is a one-liter hydration pack by Camelbak, which holds a few essentials but still is snug enough that I don’t notice it while skiing.

A note about hydration packs: When it’s really, really cold on the hill, no amount of happy thoughts or blowing in the hose will stop the line from freezing, so just accept it and thaw it out for some water when you take a break.

Cell phone: For a camera and communication device, nothing beats the modern smart phone. It slips in the front right pocket of my snow pants for easy access when I see a potential great photo, and it’s always there in case I need to turn off airplane mode in an emergency. Of course, getting a signal up there can be a different story…..

Identification, ski pass, $6 in cash but no wallet: Wallets are bulky, and carrying a credit card is just temptation to use it. This way I can buy a $5 beer and still tip.

A lighter: A snowboarder I know once got lost outside a ski area and had to survive three days in a frozen cabin until he was rescued. He has said that a lighter is the one thing he wished he had. I have no intention of skiing out-of-bounds, but as a former Boy Scout, “be prepared” is still a motto to live by.

Chapstick: No explanation. Your wind-blasted lips will thank you.

A crushed pocket sandwich and aforementioned beverage. A crushed pocket sandwich and aforementioned beverage.

Pocket sandwich: Swiss, turkey, roast beef and bacon on a small flatbread sandwich fits snugly in the pocket of my mid-layer fleece to go with the lunch beer I purchase. Sure, it’s likely to get crushed when I fall, but it still tastes the same.

One fruit snack: A chewy burst of glucose to help me find my second wind when I’m exhausted but it’s only 11:15 a.m.

One cheese stick: A little bit of protein and stomach filler to help me find my third wind when it’s 2 p.m. and I’m even more exhausted.

Foot warmers: These peel-off warmers are so light you’ll forget you have them but when toes or fingers have gone numb, they’re worth their weight in gold.

iPod: My trusty iPod has been playing the soundtrack to my ski runs for years. Remember the days of skiing with a Walkman cassette player and exactly one tape? Now you can ski with 1,000 songs in your pocket. I know skiers who play their tunes through their phones, but my phone doesn’t need any help losing its battery life up there.

Scott Rappold in the flesh. Scott Rappold in the flesh.

In my base camp bag:

Multiple goggle lenses: The weather can change in a heartbeat in the mountains, and so does the light, so it’s good to be able to swap to low-light lenses when the clouds move in or sunny-day lenses when the storm clears. Seeing where you’re skiing is pretty important, after all.

Spare set of gloves: This depends on the weather, and if it’s sunny the spare gloves stay home. But you’d be amazed how wet your hands get skiing in a storm, as well as how much a dry pair can lift your spirits.

A Pabst Blue Ribbon (or two): Because skiing is thirsty work and water only takes you so far.

Sunscreen: Of course I apply in the morning, but you can sweat it off in just a couple hours, especially if you’re hiking to earn your turns.

Cat Crap and soft cloth wipe: Cat Crap – no relation to what the name says – is indispensable for those nasty days when the combination of falling snow and your sweat turns goggles to cataracts. A layer of anti-fog cream, buffed in with a soft cloth, will do wonders.

Phone charger: Because smart phones quickly turn to bricks in the extreme cold of the mountains.