Andy Perkins is the Equipment and Partnerships Officer for the British Mountain Guides and is based in Chamonix. His work ranges from classic summer alpinism through to ski touring in Arctic Norway. He’s been a guide for 12 years and before that spent another 12 years in the UK outdoor trade working for Troll with a PH.D. in textiles. So he knows his kit as well as his mountains. You can find out more about him at www.andypmountainguide.com
“It never ceases to amaze me how hard it is to find a good pair of trousers for ski touring. You’d think that with the explosion in ski touring over the last few years that there would be loads of choice, but even with all the shops of Chamonix just down the road, it’s desperate trying to find something that fits the bill.
Let’s be clear – the bill for me means:
- 1. Not too baggy – I’m a 50 something year old mountain guide, not a teenage terrain park thrasher. I want to be able to see my feet, not trip over my crampons, and at 5 foot 7 I look like Coco the Clown in the current trend of baggy is beautiful.
- 2. Any colour except black. It can get pretty warm skinning uphill on spring days, and a lighter colour reflects the sun.
- 3. Ventilation zips for those spring skinning sessions.
- 4. Waist high pants to stay cool, not bib/salopette height.
- 5. A thigh patch pocket.
Not too much to ask, you’d think? And yet I’ve just been unable to find anything to replace my current pair of Patagonia pants, now 5 years old, repaired twice and looking a bit tired. Until now.
Enter the Arc’teryx Alpha Comp.
I’ve got to admit I was sceptical when the team at Arc’teryx UK suggested I try them. They’re not in the ski range, so would they fit over my ski boots? And there are no zips on the legs, so wouldn’t they be too hot? And they’re not even Gore-tex throughout, so would they be warm enough to cope with wind and snow? After a solid month of use in Italy and Austria, coping with off piste and touring, some sunshine and some really shocking Cairngorm style snow and wind, here are the answers:
The fit is awesome: slim and professional-looking but with excellent freedom of movement too. With the calf gussets open, they fit over my Dynafit Mercury touring boots. With the zips closed, calf volume is reduced so there’s no chance of tripping on crampons, and I look smart for dinner in the hut as well!
The colour is perfect – the grey fabric reflects enough sun but doesn’t look too dirty either after a month without washing (the clothes – not me).
Now: there are no ventilation zips on the Alpha Comp. Would this be a problem? I normally wear two thermal layers, one base and one mid, under my shells, unless it’s super hot in which case it’s just a base layer. I’ve not overheated at all despite skinning up in some pretty warm temperatures. Is it due to the Gore Fabric Technology ( a combo of Pro Shell on the key areas like thighs and seat, and soft shell on the calves and crotch ), the minimal seam allowances or something else? Who cares? It works for me. And weighs less too.
Is this mix of Pro Shell and soft shell warm enough? In active mode when skiing or skinning, there’s no doubt the answer is yes. The only time I got cold was sitting still in heavy wet snow and strong winds for 20 minutes while my team did a crevasse rescue exercise with me as the casualty. And that was on the Pro Shell section of the garment. So I think I would have been cold in any garment. It would be interesting to test the Alpha Comp in Scottish conditions – I reckon they might well work in snow and wind. A heavy West Coast monsoon downpour? That might be too much to ask, but everything has its limits. I certainly noticed they’re not as warm as a full Pro Shell pant in cold windy weather, but for me they work well enough.
The height of the waist is perfect, with the small metal belt buckle easy to operate with gloves on if you need to.
And finally the patch pocket is the right size in the right place. Big enough to keep my mobile in and keeps it nicely away from my transceiver and yet still accessible if required.
So, in summary, my search for the perfect ski touring pant is over. Have a great season everyone!”
Arc’teryx Alpha Comp Pant Features
Colour: Anvil Grey