Words by D’Arcy McLeish.
The humans get all the attention and glory. Anytime we survive some bad weather, ski a new line, fly a new canyon or send a new route, it is the humans, not the gear, who earn the accolades. The humans get the cover photos and the media time. The humans get the free swag and the travel budgets. The humans get written about, filmed and discussed. What do we get? Gear reviews; a few measly words floating in the vast media landscape of the action sports industry so a bunch of wannabe hard core mountain athletes can decide what gear to use on their path to glory.
I get it. We are viewed as inanimate objects, to be used and discarded. We’re jackets and shells and puffies and headlamps and gloves and skins and skis and axes. We are tools; necessary but not often discussed. But compared to our human hosts, we are tigers and sharks and wolves and grizzly bears. We’re tougher and burlier than the soft humans that use us and we deserve more than their token gear reviews.
I am a jacket. And not just any jacket. I am a ten-year-old (equivalent to an ancient elder in my world) Arc’teryx Fission SL Jacket. An ultra light, fully waterproof, insulated GORE-TEX® mountain warrior. For most of my existence, I have been used as a day-in, day-out jacket for a professional ski patroller. And despite the fact that he may think of himself as a grizzled mountain man, I can attest that his sauce is weaker than mine.
It’s the complaining that drives me nuts. Since our first day together, there has been an incessant barrage of pathetic whinging. Always too cold, too hot, too sweaty or too sore. I know nothing is ever perfect, but let me tell you something, pendejo, I have been covering your ass for the better part of ten years and you’re more fizzle than grizzle.
I, on the other hand, was built to last. Ten years on, I’m a little worn, sure. I may have a few GORE-TEX® patches and some fraying, but I’m still waterproof and I’m still out there, every day, getting the job done. And you? Your knees are hooped, you have a bad shoulder, your aches and pains and complaints get worse every day and you’ve become as soft as unpasteurized cheese. What the humans don’t realize is that we will outlast them. Do you understand that I was built for the apocalypse? Do you know what I go through? Four to five days a week, for close to 120 months, I have been out in the mountains, exposed, keeping you warm and dry and putting up with a level of abuse you wouldn’t survive over one day, let alone ten years. I am the reason you can do your job, little man.
I’ve been in avalanches, had countless explosive charges spray me with debris, been scraped on rocks, cliffs, had rope burn, been snagged by hundreds of trees, pushed, pulled, smoked out, lit on fire, hung out the side of helicopter, bled on, thrown up on, sweated into, overheated, frozen, beaten and generally just hammered on a daily basis for TEN YEARS. Sure, you’ve been there, too, but in all that time you’ve been protected by me, my friend. I am the barrier between you and the world.
And what do I get? A debate about whether to throw me out. Are you joking? You should be building me a shrine, you ungrateful cur. I should be sent to the GORE-TEX® R&D Lab to be studied so others may learn. I should be given a place in The Museum of Burly Mountain Explorers.
But no, you want to retire me because my zipper isn’t as smooth as it once was and I have a few patches on my arms and cuffs. How about you retire? I’m still good to go, chief. You want a gear review? Look in the mirror, pal, and tell me you’re in as good shape as I am. You can’t get through a winter without a steady supply of ice, ibuprofen, physio, and doctor’s visits. What do I get for healthcare? A tech wash once every three years and a four month break each summer in a garage that has the same climate as the Mojave Desert. Maybe if I’m lucky you hang me to dry outside your mouldy locker, away from the stank of your heated socks and helmet sweat.
So the next time any of you humans are out there in the mountains; you who think you are made of steel when you are made of sugar, take a moment to think of the gear you have on. The shells and boots and helmets and pants. Think of us and what we do. We protect your ungrateful little bottoms; we keep you warm and dry. WE are the reason you get to witness a sunset over a ridge in a field of untracked snow. We are the reason you can climb the highest mountain, ski the steepest line and survive the nastiest tumble.
We are the heroes. And for myself, a Fission SL that has cut his teeth after roughly 2400 days in the field, I can safely say that I am just getting broken in and am ready for another 2400. My human host may not be, but I bloody well am.
Be safe, ski hard.
D’Arcy McLeish is a Squamish, BC-based writer, professional ski patroller, rope access technician, mountain rescue specialist, coffee addict and CBC listener. When not doing any of these things D’Arcy is reading, climbing or riding his bike.