Great gear for great skiing: Japowder road tests

snow action team 11.02.2017

Great gear makes a big difference, and trust me, the older you get the more important that is. After 3 hectic weeks skiing all over Japan I was skinning up like a mountain goat thanks to a winning combination of Roxa Xride boots, Marker Kingpin bindings, K2 Pinnacle skis and G3 skins. Temperatures got pretty brutal at times on this trip, but I was never too cold skiing or too hot skinning or hiking with the amazing Arc’teryx Rush Goretex shell jacket either. So how did the gear go?

With this gear this old goat can break trail – hiking above the lifts at Shizukuishi in this case in 50cm of fresh.

Bumping into some mates lugging fatter skis with heavy AT bindings and big 4 buckle boots I was glad I had made the switch to the lighter rig.

In fact my 191cm K2 Pinnacles plus the Kingpins weigh about the same as Mrs Snow Action’s 144cm Kastle MX 70s with a Knee Binding!

Boots are the first key to anything though, and taking a new pair on a trip is always a gamble. This gamble paid off – The Roxa Xride is super eeasy to use, with a simple walk mode, and the comfortable shell meant pain free skiing down and feels-like-hiking-shoes skinning up. Mine are actually 2 years old, it’s taken me that long to get the matching ski & binding combo together. So the latest model that has superseded mine – the Roxa X-Face Tour – is even lighter, and this year Roxa has a new Freeride boot called the R3 130 TL which is kingpin compatible with a walk mode and only 1.5kg in weight. It’s an amazingly strong but light boot our insider at Roxa told us from ISPO and we can’t wait to try those when it snows downunder. Roxa boots are also well priced, so well worth checking out. They also have the lightest 4 buckle boot on the market, the Roxa R3S 120, which is just 1.6kg

The Roxa Xrides are awesome, and their new models are even lighter.

The K2 Pinnacle skis are great versatile all rounders, which I already knew from our Colorado mission last year enjoying Vail sidecountry and groomers on them. The nanolite composite core is just that, light. They might start to slap a little at speed on serious icy hardpack but on a Japowder mission that is not going to be a problem, or downunder on our usually soon softening snow. Variable and crust they cope with fine.
The match with the Marker Kingpin binding is one made in heaven. Like bacon and eggs, individually good but way better together. With the awesome 120mm underfoot Rossignol Squad 7s as my go to ski for the past couple of years dropping down to 95mm underfoot was no drama at all. In fact with all the tree skiing we did in Japan it was a bonus to have a bit more manouvrability and we got at least 10 serious powder days in 18 or so skied – with most of the rest turning up some boot deep lines – and the Pinnacles with their long rocker profile just surf it so easily you really don’t need fatter.
I was a bit worried about getting the hang of the kingpin toe, having never really liked pin bindings previously, but it’s very easy to use and not a big drama if you come out in the deep as I did a couple of times. For switching to uphill skinning mode it’s so simple, fast and easy that it’s effortless. The two level options you can just flick over with your pole according to the slope are also way better than the pop up under the plate type systems which can collapse and be more finicky to change.
Even better, the black and gold looks pretty classy – there are some serious local back country dudes at out of the way places in J-land and plenty were interested in my set up.

Close up of the Marker Kingpin – so easy to use, so good, and look classy too.

I am not the most savvy guy when it comes to skins and have had some dramas over the years with previous set ups – like the backing blowing away as you get them on so you end up with a sticky mess to pry apart in the cold. But the G3 skins are super easy to get on and off with simple clip for the front and a clamp buckle with an adjustable strap for the back so they are easy to flick off there.
I would give all the above products – boots, skis, bindings & skins – a 9 or 10 out of 10.
Of course anyone who hikes or skins knows that temperature control is vital. Temperatures got pretty brutal at times on this trip, but I was never too cold skiing or too hot skinning or hiking with the amazing Arc’teryx Rush Goretex shell jacket either. It’s an amazingly light feeling shell, but definitely not flimsy. I mostly wore it over a short sleeve thin thermal top & long sleeve suede feel Vigilante thermal, plus a medium weight midlayer Macpac zip jacket, and was never cold around my core even at -30° C the first day early January at Niseko. Massive vents let you open it right up under the armpits if it’s getting warm hiking/skinning, and it’s great for wearing round airports/on and off trains etc. Flying back into Australia in a heatwave I just popped it into my laptop carry-on bag on arrival. I didn’t bother taking a bulky ski jacket, and so saved space and weight packing and never missed not having one once.
On of the doctors at a big conference in Rusutsu I met on a lift there had seen one is a shop at home and liked it, but been taken back by the $AUD 899 retail. Well, this is one case you get what you pay for – it’s by far the best shell jacket I’ve had in 30 years skiing and the versatility it gives you is awesome so could be money very well spent, especially if you can grab a sale deal somewhere.
One last item deserves a mention: without the Seirus powder mask I would have been struggling. Warm, with good breathability so your goggles dont fog up above it, it’s an essential item for any serious Japowder mission and great value too.