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Torture Testing Eddie Bauer’s First Ascent Line

Out in Jackson Holes back country, your gear better not let you down.

On the Tram to Corbet’s Cabin, we ascended toward the peak of Jackson Hole‘s 10,450 feet of vertical terrain. I carried foreign gear: an avalanche beacon and shovel. The guides taking us beyond the gates could smell that I was a backcountry greenhorn, and they wandered over and made sure I had everything in working order. At the base, the thermometer hadn’t moved above one degree Fahrenheit and, with the winds whipping up top, it was safe to say it wouldn’t get any warmer. My thoughts before clipping into the skis: this gear better damn well hold up.

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Eddie Bauer’s newest line of guide-worthy gear bears the name First Ascent, and it first hit shelves in 2009. If your intuition tells you “Eddie Bauer doesn’t make guide gear”, you’re both right and wrong. Yes, Eddie Bauer’s spent a few decades making quasi-lux Explorer Editions and sundresses for yuppy Adirondack-vacationing women. But in their 95 year history, they’ve also patented the first quilted goose down-insulated jacket in the US, equipped James W. Whittaker (the first American to climb Mount Everest) with said jacket and created a military-issue B-9 Parka, donned by the fighter pilots of WWII. Somewhere along the line, Bauer became more about everyday wear for middle-aged men than mountain pursuits — but today, First Ascent is looking to drop EB’s mail-order reputation and return to the core of what initially made the company so successful. Sure, they know that outdoor retail is flooded with companies like Patagonia, Marmot, Arctery’x, and Black Diamond — who hold a majority share of the market and a good reputation with adventurers — but Bauer believes there’s still room for them to nudge their way back into outdoor relevance.

In the Wyoming backcountry I donned EB’s 2016 Telemetry line (an extension of First Ascent). Designed to serve a wide range of technical pursuits from trail riding to side country and even heli-skiing, this gear is made for extreme endeavors. The Telemetry jacket features a helmet-friendly hood, articulated sleeves for extra motion and a low-profile powder skirt to keep the snow off your back. There’s also large core vents, extra length in the arms and legs for necessary coverage and comfort and low-profile thumb loops to keep wrist cuffs in place while working in the powder. Its abstract yellow, black and gray color blocking provides the right mix of visibility on the hill and some welcome, subtle style.

EB partnered with professional guides and skiers like Andy Mahre to help integrate the features of the clothing. And the expertise showed. The Telemetry pants offer an adjustable waistband, hip-to-knee vents to help dump heat, and 1,000D CORDURA bonded inside the cuff to help protect against your ski edges. Each outer shell hovers around a pound and a half — which allows you to layer properly and is easy to travel with. Neither piece is especially showy, there isn’t a ton of unnecessary buzz features and the fit is right. They check the boxes that are essential and leave it to the professionals in the sport to tell them where to improve.

I sent the gear through the wringer — alpine boot packing along the spine of the Pucker Face ridge, then descending down the slopes, then hitting repeat. A mile or more of traversing in alpine boots gets your heart pumping and I remained relatively cool, even with my skis on my back. The descent met with heavy powder that demanded that I stay squat and keep my tips above the snow. The pants kept the snow off my shins and the jacket blocked any unwanted updraft. The day continued on with more hiking, more turns and a heavy dose of traversing through the thick of Jackson’s tree line. A credit to its craftsmanship, the gear quietly became an afterthought. I navigated the slopes, the gear worked in the background and my mind and body were free to enjoy what you go to Jackson to do — cut powder turns all the way down the mountain.

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