You may have seen Colter Hinchliffe in theaters, or maybe on TV. Over the last three years, the 28-year-old freeskier has starred on several Teton Gravity Research films. He has also skied in Warren Miller films for two years. Hinchliffe started skiing at age 3, first around his hometown of Aspen, and eventually in Alaska, Canada, Italy, Austria, Chile and all the mountainous states of the US.
Hinchliffe frequently spends long periods in the backcountry, often skiing out of remote huts. Every spring, he “dabbles” (his term) in ski mountaineering in the Elk Mountains of Colorado. “Needless to say,” Hinchliffe said, “skiing is my number one passion and I have spent my whole life learning everything I can about the sport.”
We caught him just before the ski season got underway to find out what gear he relies on during his backcountry adventures, as well as what he plans for this winter.
Gear Institute: What are you up to these days?
Hinchliffe: I’m still hanging out in the mountains around Aspen. The rock climbing was great this fall and I took a surf trip to Tronconnes, Mexico, for 10 days. But now it’s ski season. I am planning on a trip to Japan early in the year with TGR. We hope to check out some cool spots on the North Island and ski some deep snow! I have never been to that part of the world and I am really excited! I am going with a good friend Tim Durtchi and some other great guys from TGR. After that it will be up to Mother Nature.
Gear Institute: Nice. Sounds like a great ‘working’ trip. When you get out like that, what items do you always try to carry with you?
Hinchliffe: First and foremost, I never leave home without enough water for the day. Getting thirsty really shuts me down early. In fact, while I always carry water, I also keep a SteriPen Adventurer handy in my pack in case I run out of water. With it, I can zap some creek water and keep going anywhere.
I also never forget my sunscreen because I believe that’s the way to keep a nice tan and a comfortable face! My ball cap helps with that, too. I never leave home without a cap—because that’s my style, and it helps provide a bit of shade to the face.
Lastly, ski straps. Those little orange straps have saved my day so many times that I have learned to never leave home without them. They can help keep your ski skin on when you lose your tail clip, help keep your boot tight when a buckle breaks, and help hold your skis to your backpack when the clips break. The list of possible uses goes on and on.
Gear Institute: Those are great tips for everyone. Thanks. Now, as a sponsored athlete, you also have a lot of specialty brand gear at your disposal. What items of your sponsor’s gear do you always carry?
Hinchliffe: I barely ever leave home without my TREW Polar Shift because it’s so light and so warm—there is almost no reason not to bring it! Even on a warm summer day here in the mountains around Aspen, if you end up in the shade and the wind starts blowing, I love having my Polar Shift.
Gloves can actually be quite nice to have any time of the year. Whether I’m camping and need the leather gloves to gather firewood, dirt biking and need the protection, or skiing and need the warmth, I always try to be prepared with the right set from Hestra. In the winter, if I’m touring I will usually have a quiver of gloves with me, a lightweight and medium weight pair of gloves as well as a heavyweight pair of mittens. Dry hands are warm hands and sweating in the wrong pair can ruin your day!
I am currently rocking the Smith Gibson shades with the ChromaPop technology making all the colors more vibrant and always protecting my eyes from the harsh rays of the sun. In the winter, I rock the Smith I/O7 goggles because I can change lenses with ease. That comes in handy when the light changes or even when I fog up after a big crash.
I always put a lot of thought into the first layer I put on each day and it’s always wool. Even if it’s a hot summer day and I’m wearing a tank top, it’s merino wool. Merino is comfortable, dries quickly, and doesn’t smell bad when it gets sweaty. Mons Royale does the best job keeping it stylish, comfortable, and functional.
Gear Institute: That’s good information. Thanks. Now let’s talk about hut skiing—something you know a great deal about. How is packing for hut-trips different than packing for other backcountry trips?
Hinchliffe: Hut trips are so much fun and allow you to pack fairly light by providing so many amenities. Everything you need to cook, clean, and stay warm is provided in the hut. You also don’t need to bring much water because there is a system in place to melt snow (pick a place where you’re not allowed to pee) for your drinking water. All the huts I have been to have sinks but no running water so dishes are done with a series of tubs of water for scrubbing and rinsing. I would say the hardest thing to pack for a hut trip is beer! Anything heavy like that needs to be rationed and potentially left at the car. You want to carry mostly dehydrated food because liquid and meats get heavy quickly. That being said, if you are lucky enough to have access to a snowmobile and have the skills to get it to the hut, you can bring that beer, pasta sauce, and a big ham, because the fact is everything tastes better on a hut trip.
Gear Institute: Looking ahead now, where do you see the world of skiing—especially freeskiing—going in the next 5 years? Any trends or techniques developing that could have big impacts on this sport?
Hinchliffe: Uphill surely seems to be trending. People are really starting to appreciate the adventure and fitness that touring offers and I think its great. With the popularity of touring, the products are getting better and there seems to be a snowball effect with the better gear further pushing the popularity of that aspect of the sport. I think that is a big progression of the sport, foot-powered access to radical lines, and skiing them well.
Gear Institute: Anything else you want to share with our readers?
Hinchliffe: While I’m sitting in my kitchen with a cup of coffee talking about skiing, there are flakes falling outside, piling up slowly! I’m stoked for winter! I love the mountain lifestyle and enjoy all the activities summer brings, but in the end, it’s only a way to get back to winter for me. Skiing is a way of life for me (and many others here in the mountains) and being prepared with the right gear and knowledge really allows full enjoyment of the sport! Let it snow!