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A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

- John James Audubon

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Reviews

Jan 25, 2019

Wild Goose: A Visit to Canada Goose in Toronto

The Outdoor Journal travelled to Toronto to get a behind-the-scenes look at the brand that builds the world’s warmest jacket - and is also 100% made in Canada.

WRITTEN BY

The Outdoor Journal

This article originally featured in the Spring 2015 print issue of The Outdoor Journal.

During yesterday’s morning coffee meeting, The Outdoor Journal’s editorial team discussed the growing number of Canada Goose jackets, to be seen on the streets of New York City. A fashion statement, but not just a fashion statement, a well-tuned piece of technical equipment too. Our Editor-Chief reminded us that a member of our team visited their offices in Toronto a few years ago, and prompted us to revisit the following article.

Scientists wintering in Antarctica wear it. Barack Obama wears a custom-made one. So does top adventurer Ray Zahab, who in 2008 walked unsupported to the South Pole in just under 34 days. Canada Goose makes the warmest jackets in the world. One of their proudest statements is that they’re “100% made in Canada and sold in China”. The country’s minister of finance called the brand a national treasure. So with all the hype, we acceded to their invitation to fly to Toronto to check out what is arguably the best cold-weather clothing anywhere.

I didn’t go to design school, I have a degree in outdoor recreation

Behind a showroom front with displays on the wall including Laurie Skreslet’s Everest jacket from 1982, was a factory floor lined with women behind sewing machines. Swatches of fabric lay in marked bins, and the din of stitching and cutting filled the air – as well as wisps of their eponymous down feathers. Canada Goose was started in 1957 as Metro Sportswear by a Polish immigrant, Sam Tick. Today, it’s run by his grandson, Dani Reiss, and in the last thirteen years their business has gone from $3 million to $200 million; and got invested in by Bain Capital. Reiss’ controversial decision early on to retain manufacturing in Canada is evidently paying off in spades. With international growth, they’re “rebuilding a manufacturing industry that was decimated years ago,” says Kevin Spreekmeester, the brand’s marketing head. This year they’re also planning to be available in India.

We met chief designer Spencer Orr, who calls himself a “professional camper”. “I didn’t go to design school”, he told us. “I have a degree in outdoor recreation”. It shows in their products, which while are popular as fashion statements, more importantly, do the job better than any other.

The heavy-duty – and heavy – Snow Mantra Parka is the warmest in the world, for example – built to withstand a mind-boggling -70°. It’s actually too warm for Antartica summers. If you’ve ever worn one, you can tell it’ll help you survive. The Parka is cut thigh-length for maximum coverage, the coyote fur-lined hood ‘tunnels’ out, and the whole thing is made with what they call “Arctic Tech” fabric, a cotton-polyester blend. They state that the fur is used only when dictated by function. But we ask him, what about the adage – cotton kills in the cold? Spencer tells us that in extremely cold conditions this works fine because there’s no moisture it can absorb, and the fabric is more durable and resistant. From this heritage, you get an entire line of parks and jackets, from the Expedition Parka to the Mountaineer Jacket. Each piece is developed in consultation with staff and Goose People, from its original utility into something that can be worn from the high street to the high mountain.

“Dad, we have the world’s toughest musher in our living room”

“Goose People” are athletes and adventurers who fit the soul of Canada Goose, people like Lance Mackey, champion dogsledder, winner of the gruelling 1000-mile Yukon Quest, and the classic Iditarod. Their selection may seem a bit idiosyncratic, but Spreekmeester explains that the person should fit the soul of the brand and be like a member of the family – Lance, for instance, ended up staying at his place when they were discussing his booming a Goose Person. Ray Zahab is incredibly easy-going in person, when we go for a short hike with him. He explains how he was a fat slob sitting on the couch when he decided to get fit, run across the Sahara Desert (yes, all 4,300 miles of it) before founding impossible2Possible to inspire youth through adventure education.

So what’s in the future? As we watch a parade of products from older to recent lines; it’s evident that Canada Goose is evolving from a highly desirable brand with roots in cold-weather survival, into a more technical, outdoor sports brand. The team works on an 18-month development cycle, and the newer lines of flexible, lightweight down jackets like the Hybridge Lite won the Backpacker magazine award. Their new waterproof-breathable shells with a unique four-way stretch, which we reviewed in the previous issue of The Outdoor Journal, won best in show at Outdoor Retailer. We’re keenly awaiting their upcoming soft shells while sending our assistant editor off to Antartica to test this stuff for real.

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Travel

Mar 19, 2019

Is ‘Sidecountry’ a Four-Letter Word?

A team of Avalanche experts define the word, and discuss how to deal with the phenomena. Do we attempt to stop the sidecountry locomotive, or shape the definition and attempt to harness its power?

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This article originally appeared in The Avalanche Review, a trade and scientific journal serving the American Avalanche Association Membership. It was written by Scott Savage, Simon Trautman, Ethan Greene, and Doug Chabot.

Riding in the sidecountry is fun, and it is marketable. Google ‘sidecountry’ and you get 438,000 search results. As more people recreate in the sidecountry, ski areas promote it, equipment manufacturers capitalize on it, riders benefit through new technology and increased availability, the media eats it up, more people want the experience and WHAM! – we are lost somewhere in a very successful feedback loop. Ski area avalanche professionals and backcountry avalanche forecasters, however, are scratching their heads about how to deal with the phenomena; do we attempt to stop the sidecountry locomotive in its tracks or do we embrace the term, shape the definition to benefit our mission, and attempt to harness its branding power to educate the various user groups that recreate in terrain adjacent to ski areas?

One of the great slopes on Gornergrat with plenty of sidecountry opportunities, near the top, with the ever-distracting Matterhorn in the distance. Location: Zermatt. By Doc Searls Santa Barbara, USA

Currently, defining sidecountry is similar to defining pornography; people disagree on a formal definition but you know it when you see it. In our opinion, sidecountry is very useful term for describing a certain combination of human behavior and geography. It is intuitive because most people understand that sidecountry refers to the terrain adjacent to ski area boundaries. This terrain is easily accessed, easily “lapped”, and in many cases highly visible. Observing this reality and thinking about the term in a geographical and behavioral sense is important because it showcases the idea that sidecountry terrain is used differently than backcountry terrain, and as such, suggests that sidecountry users may have different needs than those traditionally addressed in avalanche education. We believe that using the term benefits avalanche professionals by allowing them to relate to audiences and be succinct when speaking, writing, or educating on sidecountry topics.

“Sidecountry is backcountry”

“Sidecountry is backcountry” is a recently coined phrase that is also highly descriptive and accurate regarding particular aspects of sidecountry. Sidecountry avalanche rescue is effectively a backcountry rescue – regardless of the proximity to a ski area, organized rescue may not arrive in time. Since ski areas do not perform avalanche hazard mitigation work in sidecountry terrain, the phrase is probably an effective tool to communicate avalanche danger, especially to novice and casual sidecountry users. “Sidecountry is backcountry” is a simple message that is easy to understand. There is power in this: power to educate, power to simplify, power to feel that one is addressing the problem. Unfortunately, we are not dealing with a simple problem or a singular, simple user group.

Ski areas do not perform avalanche hazard mitigation work in sidecountry terrain.

Novice, casual, and experienced sidecountry users have different levels of expertise, attitudes, decision-making techniques, and educational needs. In addition, novice and casual users are highly influenced by experienced users. A cursory look at recent sidecountry accident and near-miss reports reveals that experienced sidecountry users appear to be involved more frequently than the less experienced individuals. The experienced group generally visits the same sidecountry terrain frequently enough to become familiar with terrain features, may actively manage or mitigate avalanche hazard (slope cuts, cornice drops, etc.), and at times may have more intimate knowledge of the slope-scale snowpack structure and stability than local avalanche professionals. Most importantly, an “I’m going there because it’s there and I want to ski” attitude seems to be common; experienced users access the terrain and then decide whether to mitigate or avoid hazard or just forge ahead. Will telling these more risk tolerant individuals that “sidecountry is backcountry” reduce their risk? Will it help us communicate with them? Sidecountry may be the same as backcountry in some ways, but routine sidecountry users and backcountry users are disparate user groups.

Skilled, experienced professional avalanche educators can create effective sidecountry-specific educational programs and presentations. As we have learned while reaching out to snowmobilers, relevancy is everything. Just as force-feeding traditional avalanche education to someone who never gets off their sled is ineffective, so too is drawing a “backcountry box” around someone who skis out-of-bounds 50 days a year, but rarely or never uses skins or established backcountry stability evaluation and decision-making techniques. Sidecountry is a growth market for snow sports equipment and clothing manufacturers, and these companies may be interested in supporting educational and outreach efforts to sidecountry users (their customers). Instead of abandoning or over-simplifying the term, maybe the ski and avalanche community would be well served to take advantage of the strong, established sidecountry brand by partnering with the media and outdoor gear retail industry to accomplish the following:

  1. Define sidecountry as the unique geographical and behavioral issue that it is, focusing on the specific dangers associated with sidecountry recreation
  2. Identify and define specific user groups
  3. Tailor, market, and promote user group specific educational programs

The term ‘sidecountry’ is descriptive, intuitive, and useful. We agree with the recent NSAA Journal Editorial “There’s No Such Thing as ‘Sidecountry’ ” that the avalanche and snowsports communities must better communicate that riders are on their own when they leave ski area boundaries. Our common goals are to educate the public on the inherent risk of avalanches outside that boundary and to help users reduce their risk in this terrain. In our opinion, we can enhance communication by acknowledging the difference in behavior and risk tolerance between user groups, by identifying and targeting the needs of those groups, and by partnering with those that have the marketing and promotional power to deliver the message.

Read Next: Charge Hard, Stay Smart: Guidebook Guru, Fritz Sperry, on Safety in Avy-Prone Backcountry.

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