Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on April 19, 2013

I have become a kind of a connoisseur of reusable bags since Aspen City Council passed a plastic-bag ban over a year ago.

I’ve tried out bags made out of recycled plastic bottles, which are sturdy, but not easily compacted when you’re not using them. I’ve used bags that are lined with a silver, thermal layer intended to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. I’m not a fan of those either, because the bag’s technology seems unnecessarily advanced and not very effective considering there’s no way to close the top.

By far, the best bags I’ve found are the ones that are made by Equinox, a company that sells outdoor camping products. Equinox’s Ultralight Tote Bags are made out of nylon and silicone, they weigh less than an ounce and can carry over 100 pounds. They also fold into a small pouch when you’re not using them, making it easy to tuck them away into your purse or pocket and pull out if you happen to swing by the store on a whim.

I grew up in Miami where using reusable bags for shopping and recycling in general is as foreign of a concept as skinning up a mountain. For example, Miamians understand in a broad sense what recycling is and they get that they should probably be doing it. But they have no sense of urgency about it. If you happen to toss your soda bottle in the trash no one shoots you the evil eye or launches into a rant about the environmental harm of single-use plastics. Generally, nobody really cares.

In Aspen, things are different. The city has a car-share program made up of a fleet of hybrids that locals can use at their leisure instead of opting to buy their own gas-guzzling vehicles. At special events, there are always three trash bins. One is designated for compost, one for plastics and a third for actual trash — the differences of which would be lost on an average person from Miami. At Belly Up, people are paid to go through the trash after shows to separate any recyclable items that were thrown away.

None of those things happens in Miami and I think it’s fair to say they don’t happen in most other American cities either. What makes this town unique compared to the rest of the world is that the importance of being environmentally conscious permeates our culture. Although the local government spearheads the effort through “green” programs, people here genuinely want to do the right thing partly because it also happens to be the cool thing to do. I have plenty of friends who show off their reusable bags, water bottles and coffee cups arguing one style over another practically on a daily basis.

That’s why, regardless of what reusable bag style you chose, they’re all winners. At the end of the day, you’re making the conscious choice to do the right thing, and, at least in Aspen, you might even get a high-five for doing it.

Get Your Own
Equinox tote bag upstairs at Carl’s Pharmacy

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on March 8, 2013

I received my first OtterBox case three years ago in a schwag bag I was given while covering the Winter X Games.

The multi-layer case was designed for the iPhone 4, which at the time had just been released by Apple, and it seemed flimsy and cheap to me. The black case was made up of a thin silicon layer surrounded by an equally slim plastic shell. I thought that my relatively active lifestyle combined with my natural clumsiness ensured that my phone wouldn’t last a week in this thing called an OtterBox. (The name didn’t exactly incite images of sturdiness and durability either.) Regardless, I had an iPhone 3 and wasn’t due for an upgrade for another six months. The case was useless to me.

Over the next few weeks, every time I went to toss the brand new case away, First World guilt took over. I didn’t want to throw away a perfectly good case. So when my iPhone 3 finally died, I decided to give the ol’ OtterBox a go.

Its first test came during a climbing trip up Monitor Rock when I accidentally knocked my phone off a ledge. Considering the height from which it fell and the number of times it hit rocks on the way down I was pleasantly surprised to find only a small crack on the screen.

While the feat was impressive, the ultimate test of the OtterBox’s durability came later.

On a recent powder day I was skiing down a short mogul run on Aspen Mountain when my phone popped out of my pocket and was instantly lost in the snow.

I spent a few hours lapping the run and recruited some friends to help the search effort. I used Apple’s “FindmyiPhone” application to pinpoint where exactly on the run my phone had fallen. Still, with all of the powder, I was out of luck and I went home defeated. My phone had been donated to the powder gods.

The next day a friend took a lap and spotted it sticking out of the pow. Although it was pretty shocking that my phone was found at all, I was most impressed by the fact that the recovered device was still fully functional and had full battery life. The incident was enough to convince me: OtterBox is the real deal.

A cell phone is a very personal thing. We check them compulsively, get anxious when they’re not near us and many of us even take them to bed. Some people like to pamper their phones with bedazzled or furry cases, while others pride themselves in not relying on a case to protect their fragile phones. I’d like to think I don’t need a case, but if history has taught me anything it’s that I can’t own a phone for more than a year without cracking its screen.

Without the OtterBox in my life, Apple would be richer, I would be poorer, and no one would ever be able to get a hold of me. Consider me a believer.

Get Your Own:
OtterBox phone case
At Active Communications on 300 Puppy Smith St, Aspen, 970-429-8550
Models start at $29.95

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on February 1, 2013

I have never been in a situation where I needed to pee so badly while skiing that I didn’t have time to make it to a bathroom or behind a tree to pop a proverbial squat. But maybe that’s my problem. Maybe I’m not gnarly or open minded enough to try a simple solution — investing in a pair of my own pee pants.

The hands-free pee pants, made by medical professionals, look pretty much like what you would expect if women were to come up with their own solution to relieving themselves without sitting down. The pants are tight nylon shorts with a rubber funnel and a long tube attached to the crotch. Wearing them is probably the closest I’ll ever be to knowing what it feels like to be a man. I wouldn’t say it’s comfortable. The hose hangs awkwardly in between your legs and the rubber funnel bunches around sensitive parts. Still, if you’re in a bind and need to pee quickly it can do the job.

The egress is aligned ergonomically to minimize the amount of waste that comes in contact with skin and the slippery rubber material makes sure that most of the urine does in fact make it out of the funnel. The pants were designed for women with active lifestyles, according to the product’s website, and the company offers portable bags in a range of prints including a hot-pink zebra pattern so you can carry around your own waste in style.

Although the product seems excessive and brutish, the more I think about the pee pants, the more I warm to the idea.

I’ve had many hikes up Highland Bowl with male friends who whip it out — almost ceremoniously — to relieve themselves at the top before heading down. Sometimes I think they do it just to prove that they can or, like a dog marking its territory, to stake claim to the mountain. I’ve never had that urge, but with pee pants I wonder if I could. Despite it’s silly nature, I wonder if pee pants could be the final chapter in feminist’s attempt to level the playing field between men and women. Although we are able to vote and are now outperforming men in the workforce, at the very base of it, women are still limited to dominating mountains by our junk — or lack thereof.

In order truly to be equal, we need to come at things with the mindset of a man. The mindset that we can own things, simply by standing and peeing on them.

With pee pants, I can one day stand at 12,392 feet peeing myself while taking in the view and assert that the mountain is mine. Then, for the first time ever, Highland Bowl will be owned by a woman.

Let the revolution begin.

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on December 21, 2012.

Dear Santa,

This year all I want for Christmas is one thing: My dream backcountry touring set up. That includes Kastle TX97 skis, Scarpa Gea alpine touring (AT) boots and some super sticky Kastle skins. Well, okay more like three things.

I think the point of touring is sometimes lost on the extreme endurance athletes who beam up Aspen Mountain each morning. The purpose of having the ability to walk up hill on skis is not to get first tracks on fresh corduroy and a sick cardio workout. It’s for adventuring into the backcountry, where hazards exist that are not marked and fresh powder sits for days waiting for someone, anyone to drop in and carve a line.

That’s why it makes sense that big mountain skier Chris Davenport, who was the first to ski all of Colorado’s 54 14,000-foot mountains, is the brains behind Kastle’s lightweight TX97 powder ski. The skis are not only light enough for long treks, but they’re long and fat enough to allow skiers to float on deep backcountry powder.

The 177 cm skis together weigh a meager 7 pounds, 8 ounces, which is nearly half the weight of Kastle’s all-mountain FX94 model. That’s because the skis use a lightweight carbon fiber layer, which heavier skis don’t have because they are more difficult to repair when an edge is blown. The skis are also available in 167 cm and 187 cm lengths.

Meanwhile, the Scarpa Gea AT boots offer comfort during long backcountry climbs and stiffness on descent with three different user settings. In its climbing mode, the inside of the boot loosens up for maximum comfort, something typically only known to snowboarders. On the downhill, skiers can choose between one of two  modes that will fix the boot either forward or upright depending on how aggressive the skier is.

A set of Kastle skins round up the perfect setup for backcountry freshies. It might seem like a big order Santa, but I promise I’ll make some sick turns for you.

Get Your Own:
Kastle TX97 for $749, women’s Scarpa Gea AT boots for $599 (or men’s Scarpa Maestrale AT boots for $699) and rent Kastle skins for $7 a day at Ute Mountaineer, 210 South Galena Street.

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on November 16, 2012

If I could go back to my 22-year old self and give her one piece of wardrobe advice for living in the mountains, it would be to buy SmartWool clothing.

When I first moved to Aspen, I had spent the majority of my life living at sea level where the average temperature was about 80-degrees year round. Needless to say, it took me a few years to figure out how to dress appropriately for shredding the so-called “gnar.”

I tried many different techniques to keep me warm on the mountain. I layered a mixture of cotton long underwear with cheap clothes made of synthetic mystery materials that looked like they would keep me warm. Those did little better than retain sweat, which in turn froze on chair lifts.

When layering didn’t work I bought a large puffy ski jacket to cover a light layer. That worked great on the frigid days early in the season, but it was smothering on most mild days. The few occasions I tried to hike Highland Bowl in the jacket it became a heavy weight reminding me of my own mountaineering fashion ignorance with every step.

After three seasons, I was finally turned on to SmartWool clothing. The product’s labels are — in a word — cutesy. The brand is written in sloppy cursive with the loops filled with bright colors — a style that is very similar to one I used when I was in fifth grade writing love letters to JTT. Meanwhile, the company’s website looks like it’s selling cupcakes or knitting equipment rather than base layers meant to keep you warm during super-sick, extreme outdoor activities.

Still, the label wasn’t intimidating to someone like me who has been fooled before by high tech base layers that boast their five-syllable materials as the end-all, be-all answer to outdoor mountain wear.

SmartWool makes those claims, but it does so in a way that I understand. It’s made out of Merino wool and wool comes from sheep. I get that!

Regardless of your views on branding, the kicker is that SmartWool actually does what it’s suppose to do. It keeps you warm in a single layer and it doesn’t hold onto moisture. The company claims that it’s more effective at regulating body temperature, heart rate and “lactic acid build up” than its synthetic competitors. I’m not sure about all of that, but from my experience it is the best at keeping me warm and dry so it gets my vote.

SmartWool makes its products for men, women and children and it comes in shirts, pants, socks, hats, scarves and even some bright colored gloves. I recommend them all.

Get Your Own
Women’s SmartWool base layer shirts and pants, starting at $95 at Ute Mountaineer 210 South Galena Street

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on October 5, 2012.

When it comes to a new hobby, I’m generally wary about investing money into any new gear. In this town, it’s relatively easy to drop hundreds of dollars on gear that you’ll never actually use in the long run, so I tend to hold out as long as possible before I make a purchase, which others might call necessary. (It took a year and a half for me to finally buy my own PFD when I was a raft guide.) Recently I made the  decision to invest in my own climbing harness after I annoyed a group of experienced climbers by asking them to loan me their harness after each other climb.

It’s a good way to get out of belaying someone, but a bad way to make friends.

There’s a wide range of options out there for harnesses in both comfort and affordability. When I walked into the shop to choose one, my first instinct was to buy the cheapest $40 model and call it a day. I was quickly informed by the sales person that when you’re buying a harness, which will be responsible for holding you up some hundreds of feet in the air, cheap isn’t the way to go.

Good point. The cheaper harnesses offer the bare minimum of support without providing pads for comfort. Investing $30 more, you can buy a Black Diamond harness that not only gives padded support, but comes in pretty colors like daiquiri green, fig red and something they call Aruba fire (light blue and red together). Ultimately, I settled on a Petzl harness, which got the recommendation from both the sales person and my experienced climbing buddy. After being on rope in the Petzl Selena for a couple of days I know why.

Petzl is also the greatest company in the world for idiots. It costs roughly the same as a Black Diamond harness, but its small safety features make it the clear winner. The most notable downfall of the Black Diamond harness is that you have to be sure to double-back your waist strap so that it doesn’t accidentally come loose mid-air. For someone like me, who has a problem remembering details, that could be fatal. With a longer waist strap, Petzl assumes you’ll forget and makes it difficult, if not impossible, to untie the double-backed strap.

All of Petzl’s gear comes with detailed pictures of how the product should be used. While most companies rely on a packet to instruct users, Petzl puts universal instructional images right on the product, so that users get it right the first time. On the Petzl harness, for example, there is a drawing of a rope through the section of the harness where a climber would put a rope, so it won’t take people like me 20 minutes to figure out which way is the front.

Before I made the purchase, I wondered if I would be judged by fellow climbers as a rookie with Petzl gear. But the more I climb, the more I’m genuinely appreciative of Petzl’s attention to detail and concern for my safety.

Get Your Own
Petzl women’s Selena harness
at Ute Mountaineer $64.95

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on August 16, 2012

When I first decided to purchase the Osprey Manta 30 hydration pack, I was skeptical on the worth of all its gadgetry. The salesmen swore by its features and versatility, but I was used to something simpler.

My North Face Hot Shot served me well since I first moved to Aspen four years ago. Simple and light, it was with me when I hiked my first 14er, when I decided as a rookie Aspenite to hike to Capitol Lake and back in a day as I was getting over the swine flu, and it was my sole solace when I committed a day last year to packing Highland Bowl.

During my last hike to Cathedral Lake, I realized a power bar had melted inside my beloved pack creating a thick chocolate membrane in the corners. I decided it was time to retire the old thing and invest in something new.

That led me to the Osprey Manta 30 hydration pack. It caught my eye in the store because of its small size and water system, a feature my old pack notably lacked. Still, its hefty price of $149 was less than enticing. Easily $50 more than its nearest competitor, I wondered, “As a day pack, what could it really offer that was worth the price?”

As it turns out, plenty.

While it’s not the lightest pack out there — coming in at  3 pounds, 2 ounces without water — its strength is in the added amenities elegantly designed into the pack. They serve as a bonus, once you realize they’re there.

Its main feature is the water storage bladder, which is trademarked as the “Osprey Hydraulics” system. The trademark is more than just a fancy name for a day pack with a reservoir. It’s designed to conform the reservoir to your back even when it’s full, so much so that you almost forget your carrying 6.5 pounds of water on your back when you rest against a rock or tree.

The reservoir is also designed well enough to warrant a trademark, which is dubbed the HydraForm. With a handle, it is built so that the bag slides in and out of the pack easily, even when it’s full of water, making cleaning and refilling a breeze.

Inside the reservoir, Osprey used the antimicrobial technology called AquaGuard (also trademarked). AquaGuard is a medical company known for using moisture barriers to protect surgical incisions from dangerous bacteria. The clever designers over at Osprey decided to use the same technology that keeps wounds clean to keep bacteria and mold out of your drinking pack. Genius.

For neat design features you can actually see, the water valve has a 180-degree on/off switch and a magnetic piece on the back of the bite valve that buckles easily to your left strap for easy access when not in use.

And then there are all the pockets and cleverly placed straps. There’s a main compartment for a small amount of food, clothing and gear; a small pocket lined with soft material for fragile items like sunglasses; large and small pockets on the outside for quick access and pockets on either side with zippers. There’s also a bonus raincover hidden in a pocket at the bottom of the pack, which I admittedly didn’t discover until about a month after I bought it. There’s even a spot for a blinker — although it’s not included.

One other important feature of the Osprey Manta that other packs don’t have is a lightweight alloy frame with struts and a tensioned mesh back panel for better support and flexibility on long hikes.

At the end of the day, the pack’s bevy of trademarks and design features remind you that the extra money your spending on the pack is for the time and thought put into the pack by Osprey’s design team.

Plus it looks pretty cool on, which always earns bonus points.

Get your own
Osprey Manta 30 Hydration Pack
$149 at the 
Ute Mountaineer

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on June 29, 2012

If you’re regularly on the river, be it in a kayak, raft or ducky, you can probably appreciate a good water shoe when you find one and that’s exactly what the Fila Skele-toes are. Although the shoes look as weird as their name sounds, don’t let that scare you off.

My first introduction to the strange-looking shoe was when I was in the middle of the brutal two weeks it takes to train as a raft guide. One of the more eccentric rookies pulled out a version of the shoe and began showing off his new gear — a typical custom of new guides. My first reaction was ridicule. The shoe made him look like some kind of a man-frog with individual slots for each toe. It looked less like a sleek bootie and more like a weird sock/glove hybrid. That season he took the relentless criticism from us guides like a champ and faithfully defended his shoe, swearing by its versatility and warmth.

Four years later, almost all of the guides who once made fun of him have converted from the sneaker-like watershoes to the Skele-toes. Part of the problem is that most watershoes are made by companies that are better known for their hiking and walking shoes than their watershoes, which tend to be just waterproof versions of their dry-land counterparts. The same feature that makes the shoes look strange is what makes them better than their competitors.

Any guide knows you can’t predict when you’ll end up stranded in the middle of the river with only one way out or when you’ll need to jump from rock to slippery rock for one unfortunate reason or another. It helps to have a good watershoe that can grip a variety of surfaces, wet or dry, and that’s exactly what the Skele-toes does. By allowing each toe its own slot, the shoe gives you that primitive ability while allowing you to go from a slippery boat to gravel-covered land without second a thought.

The Fila Skele-toes  comes in different colors and materials. As a rule of thumb, water shoes made out of neoprene are better than others because they keep your feet warmer. As for color I go pink — which is partly because they’re easy to identify if a river rat happens to “borrow” them in between runs and partly because they like totally go with my pink and gray Astral life jacket.

Get your own:
Fila Skele-toes are available at http://www.fila.com. 
Prices start at $49.99

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on December 10, 2010

When Walter Benjamin wrote about an object existing beyond its material essence and taking on a new identity in the minds of its owner in his 1931 essay “Unpacking My Library: A Talk About Book Collecting,” sculpture had not yet evolved into an art form that could reflect Benjamin’s abstract theory. However, that idea is at the center of British sculptor Roger Hiorns’ show at the Aspen Art Museum, which opened Thursday, Dec. 9.

Hiorns displays six transparent alien-like shapes that hang on the wall of the upstairs exhibit. The pieces are made out of ballistics-grade plastic and have small chunks of brain matter from veal calves placed where the anus of the abstract beings would be.

Hiorns acquired the brain matter from a farm in central England where he visited the calves when they were still alive.

“All of the brain matter — the calves — viewed me when they were still conscious beings. I was keen to be present in the hypocampus of the calves,” says Hiorns.

By displaying brain matter in plastic, manufactured sculptures, Hiorns attempts to juxtapose the significance of an object that has had real-life experiences with its material existence.

“The world is small,” Hiorns adds. “And through that notion I became interested in the idea of fundamental materials — what the world is made up of, some biological and others manufactured by us.”

Hiorns has displayed his works at the Tate Modern art museum in London, and was shortlisted for the 2009 Turner prize. He is known in the art community for combining obscure industrial materials with more familiar objects to create conceptual juxtapositions that can at times be uncomfortable, as even Hiorns admits.

“The forms are drawn in a very specific way,” he says. “They are alienish and kind of awkward. I’m not trying to produce a product that has a home. Some are [intentionally] clumsy, and I don’t want to be completely polite about it.”

While Hiorns’ alien forms and morbid materials can be a challenge for some, Mamma Andersson, whose exhibition is showing concurrently with Hiorns in the downstairs exhibit space, displays familiar, dreamlike images. Andersson’s sense of scene is very particular, with fuzzy backgrounds but detailed objects.

As a former landscape artist, Andersson’s earlier pieces are vivid landscapes. As she developed as an artist and physically moved further away from nature, domestic scenes took over her work. Some of her most interesting pieces have nature encroaching into domestic scenes. One painting titled “Ebb and Flow” depicts a familar scene of a bed and desk on the right side of the painting while a large cliff and trees creep into the background of the painting’s left side.

People are never the focus of Andersson’s works, often they have their backs to the viewer, suggesting the scene is more interesting than the individuals themselves, and rarely are they as detailed as the objects that sit next to them.

“The people in the paintings are not communicating to the viewer and not talking with one another,” says Andersson. “And it can be about [the feeling of] isolation when you are with other people who you share a lot with.”

Andersson is a Swedish artist and this will be her first solo exhibition in the United States.

“This show is very special because it has a lot of different pieces from different shows and you can see a range of [ideas],” she says.

Both exhibitions will run until Feb. 6, 2011, and will be followed by Mark Manders’ exhibition that will run Feb. 18 to May 1, 2011.