The End of an Era

 Ribbon cutting ceremony for the original Cross Country Connection, when it opened its doors in West Laramie in 1981.

Ribbon cutting ceremony for the original Cross Country Connection, when it opened its doors in West Laramie in 1981.

By Willow

In 1981, Ken Cramer moved to Laramie from upstate New York, rented a little shack in West Laramie and started renting cross-country skis.

Ken had been advising the outing club at Colgate College, but he wanted to live out west. Laramie seemed a good pick: it was a college town, it had no outdoor program and - most importantly, for someone opening a ski shop - it had good winters. 

In the early years, Cross Country Connection was only open during ski season. Come spring, Ken would close up shop and guide rafting trips.

Eventually, the store grew to include hiking, camping and climbing gear and opened its doors year-round. By the early 1990s, it had outgrown the 600-square-foot space in West Laramie and moved downtown.

In the nearly four decades it's been in business, Cross Country Connection has become a beloved fixture in the community. It's grown from a one-man band to a team of six; it's outfitted countless outdoor enthusiasts for a lifetime of adventures; it's fostered a thriving Nordic community in the area; and it's helped build up the middle-school and high-school ski programs by outfitting hundreds of kids with rental gear each year.

But the store's biggest success comes from Ken's overall approach to life and to the people around him. Ken sees the best in everyone, and treats them with a kindness and warmth we would all do well to emulate. He is the most caring, generous boss most of us have ever known -- the kind of boss who genuinely wants the best for you, always has your back, and treats you like family.

Now, after 37 years in business, Ken is getting ready to retire. He's planning to spend some well-deserved time traveling and enjoying his beloved outdoors.

Needless to say, he will be dearly missed. 

Ken has sold the store to Rebecca Walsh, owner of Just Trails and Hike Like a Woman. Rebecca is renaming it Basecamp and will close for remodeling during the month of April. Stay tuned for info on the grand opening in early May.


Wyoming is windy. Get an Osprey pack.

Granted, the title of this post is a bit of a non-sequitur. But Osprey packs are pretty rad, and we just got a shipment of new ones in.

They start at $50 and come with an All Mighty Guarantee. So if anything ever goes wrong with one, you're covered.

You know what to do.

(BYO awesome hairdo).

 Photo by Willow.

Photo by Willow.


So you want to go back-country skiing...

By Maciej

Jen in BC.jpg

Your friends have stopped buying lift passes, you’re tired of the resort scene, and you’re signed up for an Avalanche Safety course.  What gear do you need to make your backcountry ambitions a reality?

There are a few obvious items you’ll need. Dedicated skis, bindings and boots will look a lot like your resort setup, but will weigh less and offer the ability to go uphill as well as down. You’ll need climbing skins for uphill traction. And you'll need some basic avalanche safety gear. Consider an avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe to be required equipment.

Beyond these items, there are several other things that you should have with you. A snow-specific pack will carry better, won’t attract snow, and will have places for all your safety gear.

Telescoping poles can be helpful if you want longer poles for slogging across a flat meadow or shorter ones for booting up a steep face. If you’re in consequential terrain, it might be a good idea to bring your ski helmet (that ski-specific pack will have a place to store it).

A first aid kit with a SAM splint is worth having with you. A lightweight down puffy and spare gloves can mean the difference between a fun day out and fighting hypothermia. A couple of carabiners and some p-cord are useful for anything from splinting a leg to hauling someone out of a crevasse to keeping your climbing skins attached if the glue gives up.

Voile ski straps weigh almost nothing and also have many uses, from holding a damaged boot together to helping build a rescue sled.

Finally, pack more food and water than you’ll use on a given day. If a half-day ski turns into an all-day epic, keeping your energy up can be critical.

RCS Skate Skis: Thoroughbreds of the Snow

Willow's RCS skis.JPG

By Willow

Turns out, equipment really does make a difference.

Since learning to skate five years ago, I had been skiing on CRSes -- trusty friends whom I affectionately named "Twinkle Feet" and "Feather Toes." They were fine for learning: short, stable, durable, and fast enough that I didn't feel the need for anything better.

But then, this year, I bought a pair of RCSes. I had been hesitant to pull the trigger. Were fancy skis really worth the price tag? Would I even notice the difference?

The answer was a resounding, unequivocal "Yes!"

These skis are a completely different animal from what I was used to. If my old skis were quarter horses, these beauties are thoroughbreds: sleeker, livelier, more nimble, built for speed. I feel a little silly saying this, but these skis have a personality. It's like they're chomping at the bit to perform -- like, if I just let them be, they'll do all the work for me, gracefully, effortlessly. On the uphills, they seem to surge with energy. And on the downhills? I've never skied with such control and precision.

In case it wasn't clear, I am hopelessly, utterly in love.

Chacos: The Sandals That Do Everything

 Photo by Willow Belden

Photo by Willow Belden

by Willow Belden

Until this summer, I was a Teva girl.

Chacos seemed bulky and heavy, and the arch always seemed to hit me in the wrong place. But I was tired of my feet sliding around in my sandals. I wanted something sturdy -- something I could use for hiking, for fording rivers, for scrambling up rocks.

So a few months ago, I bought a pair of ZX/2 Classics.

It took about a week for me to get the straps adjusted just right, but once I did, I was in love. These sandals stay put on my feet, grip well, and are stable enough that I can even wear them backpacking. 

They are sandals that will take you just about anywhere, and they are 100-percent worth it.


Fischer Twin Skins: Love at First Ski

by Willow Belden

 Photo by Willow Belden

Photo by Willow Belden

A few weeks ago, I made one of the best impulse purchases ever: a pair of Twin Skin skis. I had been frustrated with classic skiing all season. My old no-wax skis were sluggish and boring, and I was rarely willing to take the time to wax my waxable skis. 

But when I took my new Twin Skins on their maiden voyage, I was instantly smitten. 

Twin skins are part of a new breed of no-wax classic skis that use synthetic skins, rather than fish scales, to give you grip. They're supposed to be the best of both worlds: convenient like traditional no-wax skis, but high performing like waxable skis. And they live up to the hype. They're sleek, lively and fast, and they spare you the hassle of fussing with kick wax.

In the few weeks since I acquired these beauties, I've done more classic skiing than in the whole rest of the season combined. They're nimble and light, like feathers on your feet. And they're quickly making me fall in love with classic skiing again.

RC Carbon Skate Boots: Like 'Unicorn Feet'

By Annie Robbins

I affectionately refer to my RC Carbon My Style skate boots as my "unicorn feet."  They have definitely given me a spring in my skate.  These boots have a solid construction and really support my weak ankles. Because of the stiffness, I don't get as sore on my longer outings. Maybe they really do have a little magic in them. 

Another great feature is the many different ways to adjust them.  There are laces to tighten the liner, a ratchet strap over the ankle, and a velcro strap to adjust the tightness of the cuff.  I don't have to crank down on one strap hoping it will keep my whole foot in place. 

Be warned though, these boot are designed for performance.  They are great for those who are focused on training, not necessarily for those wanting to be out for an all-day adventure.  Overall, they are solid boots that give me great ankle support and make me feel like rainbows are trailing behind me.  

Why I'll never leave my water filter behind again

by Willow Belden

I was trying to lighten my load. All the ultralight backpackers seemed to be using Aquamira drops or a SteriPEN to purify their water. And so, when I set out for a three-week bikepacking trip in Idaho this fall, I left my water filter behind.

That was a mistake.

The problem wasn't immediately apparent. My first day out, I delighted in my Aquamira drops; they were small and light, and they eliminated the need to crouch uncomfortably by a riverbank while pumping liter after liter of water.

But then, the rain came -- a relentless downpour. The deluge lasted several days and washed a torrent of dirt into the rivers, leaving the water brown and murky. I panicked. Would Aquamira still work in cloudy water? I imagined contracting giardia out there on the trail, days away from the nearest town. It was a terrifying thought. Even if I didn't get giardia or E. coli, ingesting all that mud and silt couldn't be good for you.

In the end, I was lucky. I had a bandana with me, and I strained the water through it before adding an extra large dose of Aquamira. The bandana was far from clean -- I'd been using it as a "pee rag" -- but it did the job: I didn't get sick.

Still, it's not an experience I wish to repeat. Straining the water was slow and painstaking, and using my pee rag as a filter was sub-optimal, to put it lightly. More importantly, the constant worry that I might contract some horrible water-borne disease was awful. Anxiety consumed me, and it was impossible to relax.

That doesn't mean I've written off chemical water purification altogether. For shorter trips, in places with reliably clear water sources, it's fabulous. But for longer forays into the backcountry, a filter is worth its weight in gold.

Black Diamond X4 Cam

 Photo by Annie Robbins

Photo by Annie Robbins


By Annie Robbins

It is officially climbing season, and my training has moved outside. 

I have been using Black Diamond X4 Cams and love the way they sit in the rock. They have a flexible stem that makes placing and retrieving from the depths of the infamous Vedauwoo cracks easy.   I think they have been a great addition to my trad rack.  


Big Agnes Copper Spur Tent

 Photo by Willow Belden

Photo by Willow Belden

By Willow Belden

If you're looking for a backpacking tent that is both spacious and light, the Big Agnes Copper Spur is the winning ticket. I took the one-person version on a solo thru-hike of the Colorado Trail in 2014, and it held up splendidly for five weeks of rain, wind, and hail.

The spacious interior gave me plenty of room to lounge, eat, and read without feeling claustrophobic; there was ample space to stow all my gear inside; and I was able to stash boots, trekking poles, and other muddy gear in the vestibule.

At 2 lb 8 oz, this little shelter is refreshingly light; and the bright, cheerful color scheme makes it pop in photos.