Volken’s kit will fix a million different mishaps, but you should still take the time to customize it for you. For example, some people forego the BD “Binding Buddy” for a slightly lighter tool like Topeak’s Ratchet Rocket ($30, carry relevant bits) or Fix It Sticks Blend ($34).
Whatever bit driver you choose, do your homework. If you’re rocking anything out of the ordinary, make sure you have the bits to tighten screws and bolts specific to the gear. Double-check you have extra bolts and screws, too, in case they loosen and disappear during your on-snow heroics.
If you’re guiding or touring with less-experienced buddies, consider their gear, too—split boards have different bits than ski stuff, and Euros will sometimes have slightly different gear than North American gringos.
Consider the kind of adventuring you’re doing, too. Going to Morocco to ski the High Atlas? Chances are you’re not going to ski down to town and be able to find a replacement part as you would on a Haute Route, therefore packing both a binding heel and toe seems smart. Doing a boat-based ski-and-sail mission on Svalbard? Bring a set of spare skis. Vallée Blanche on a warm, sunny day? Meh, you probably won’t need much.
“I differentiate between gear failures and catastrophic gear failures,” says Volken. “For the most part, broken poles, broken buckles, walk mechanism on boots—all that stuff is bad, but it’s not terrible if you know how to ski. I did an entire Haute Route without a heel piece. If you know how to ski, you just keep skiing. If you break a toe piece, though, that’s pretty bad.”
Poles break more than almost any other piece of kit, so have a couple tricks up your sleeve. I snapped a pole setting track up to Loft Peak outside Smithers, B.C., one year. My colleague rolled up and swapped his with mine. At our next break, he reappeared with my pole repaired: two short sections of pine branch, wrapped firmly with duct tape. It worked all week!
Another easy fix for poles is a few wraps of sheet aluminum from a can of soda or beer. Next time you crack open a Grape Fanta, cut out the ends and you’ve got a great pole splint. Wrap the broken section, affix either end with a plumber’s clamp from Volken’s kit, and you’re in business. Works for tent poles, too.
Bindings can actually be a relatively easy fix, if you’re prepared. The plumber’s cement fills a blown-out hole. You can insert a Helicoil and set it with the cement, or screw directly into a hole plugged with the stuff. In a perfect world, see if you can experiment with it first to get a sense of how it works and what you can get away with. (Be careful using Gorilla Glue, as it expands quite a bit as it dries and can actually end up pushing the binding plate up and off the ski.)
If you can’t get the new screws to hold or the holes are too far gone to repair, you can also drill completely through the ski and out the base. You’ll either need a drill bit for this, a small knife blade or awl on a multi-tool, or self-drilling screws. Insert a screw from the base (use a washer here if you have it), all the way through and out the top of the ski. Ideally the bolt has a rounded or flat head. Bolt your binding on as best you can.
This might work for a completely broken ski, too, by overlapping the two parts and drilling through the whole shebang. (If you try either of these potential fixes, good luck, and please do not go to your local gear shop once you return to civilization and demand to warranty the ski.)
In Volken’s kit, he has specific nuts and bolts to incorporate a shovel handle into a rescue sled. To accomplish this, he would need an extendable-handle shovel. Each section of the handle would have holes drilled at its ends. His skis, too, would have holes drilled at the tip and the tail. If he needed to build his sled, he could bolt one shovel handle between his ski tips and the other between the tails. Long bolts with wing nuts would do the trick.
Once he’s bolted the skis into a long rectangle, using ski straps and poles, he could cross-brace from tips to heel pieces, fashioning his poles into an “X” to give the sled rigidity. Lay a tarp on top of this, pad it, and package your patient.
In a serious pickle, you could drill the tips and tails and improvise this fix. (K2 and Völkl backcountry skis come drilled for this purpose). Remember, though, the moment you drill into your skis, you void the warranty.
Boots occasionally break, and thankfully it’s usually pretty workable if you have the parts. Bringing a replacement buckle and, for a long hut-trip or an extended traverse, spare hardware for the “walk mode” might be a good idea. Eyeball your particular boot and guesstimate if you could repair a failure with improvised materials or if you need to carry replacement parts. If you do choose to carry replacement buckles, etc., make sure you have the rivets or bolts to attach them to the boots.
Whatever you come up against, channel your inner MacGyver, combine all the gear in your team’s repair kit(s), and get creative. Usually repairs make for a funny story down the road, but if you lose the ability to travel in deep snow (skin failure, binding, etc.), you’re looking at a potentially desperate emergency. Do your best, get creative, adapt, and try to fix the problem.
In the event your repair kit can’t do the job and you’re facing a real problem, hopefully your team has a communication strategy and expert winter survival skills. Stay warm and dry, use your tarp for shelter, and call for help with a satellite communication device.
Rob Coppolillo lives and writes in Chamonix, France. He’s an internationally licensed mountain guide and the author of The Ski Guide Manual ($32.95; Falcon Guides).