A Love Letter to My Patagonia Micro Puff

Kitty Calhoun out testing Patagonia's new Micro Puff Jacket on a recent ski tour in Colorado's San Juan Mountains.

Kitty Calhoun out testing Patagonia’s new Micro Puff Jacket on a recent ski tour in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains.

I never thought when I was learning to ski at age 6 where my skis would take me.

How many memories my gear and clothes would hold?

I remember my Dad helping me into a garage-sale jacket and putting mittens on my tiny, frozen hands.

There’s the short, tailored sweater with yellow and blue stripes that I wore as a teenager—a tool to attract boys.

When I started winter climbing, I gave up fashion for the function of baggy wool: a brown, plaid button-down, army trousers, and Dachstein mitts.

Back then we all wore wool because it kept us insulated from the cold even when it was wet.

Kitty Calhoun skiing the East Face of Teewinot , Grand Teton National Park, 1982, in her fashion backwards Army Surplus wool knickers and sweater.

Kitty Calhoun skiing the East Face of Teewinot , Grand Teton National Park, 1982, in her fashion backwards Army Surplus wool knickers and sweater.

The problem was the smell of sweaty, wet wool is distinctive. And, inevitably, before the end of a long day, an ice storm would blow in and I’d be caked—further insulated with a thick layer of snow and ice!

After college new fabrics became available. To save money, I made my own waterproof anorak but splurged on a Patagonia fleece.

Living out of my Subaru, I didn’t have many clothes. I wore this fleece day and night for eight years. I loved it because it didn’t stink when it got wet. It was also softer, and dried faster than wool.

Kitty Calhoun at 14, 158 feet on the Summit of Mt Sneffles, Co, 1982, wearing her homemade anorak and wool gloves.

Kitty Calhoun at 14, 158 feet on the Summit of Mt Sneffles, Co, 1982, wearing her homemade anorak and wool gloves.

Over the years I have tested many different insulating jackets.

Always, the challenge is to find a material that insulates by trapping heat but also breathes. A material that “breathes” means that it allows moisture vapor to move away from your body and your next-to-skin, wicking, base layer.


For a decade, Patagonia worked to answer the problem that when down gets wet it looses its heat-trapping loft, but synthetics are never as warm and compressible.

The Micro Puff is the answer. It’s a synthetic jacket made with a unique patterning construction that works to prevent down-like filaments from shifting.

The result is the best warmth to weight ration of any jacket Patagonia has ever created. That is saying a lot!


The Micro Puff is not a belay jacket.

The Micro Puff is designed to be part of a layering system, which Patagonia developed in the 1970’s:

  1. Next-to-skin wicking layer
  2. Insulating layer
  3. Wind, water resistant/proof shell


 We couldn’t be more proud to have Patagonia as the title sponsor for Chicks Climbing and Skiing.

We look forward to new adventures in jackets of higher performing materials partnered with a company whose mission includes “using business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”

Try out Patagonia’s revolutionary layering system at our clinics.

200 Years of Climbing Evolution

Grivel’s Tech Machine and North Machine ice climbing tools

Awesome Sponsor Gear Review

by Angela Hawse, co-owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, IFMGA


In 1818, the Grivel family of Blacksmiths began to create technical tools for alpinism. These “technical” climbing tools evolved from agricultural tools like pick axes. Despite widespread skepticism these innovations established Grivel as the leader in equipping alpinists to climb more challenging routes in the Alps—and, later, throughout the world.

For 200 years, Grivel has stayed at the forefront of climbing evolution through innovation and, recently, a commitment to sustainable manufacturing. Today, all Grivel products are produced with power generated from 100% solar energy at their small, family-run plant in Coermayeur, Italy.

For over seven generations, Grivel has taken clean climbing to an entirely new standard with their foresight and regard for cultural responsibility.

In 1986, Grivel’s Super Courmayer system introduced interchangeable picks, hammers and shovels (what we call adzes) which maintained Grivel as the technical, ice-climbing tool leader. In 1996, The Machine further revolutionized the design of ice climbing tools by setting the modern curved-shaft standard. Every other manufacturer soon followed suit.

I climb exclusively on Grivel tools and I can say, as a woman with small hands, that there is no tool on the market that works better for me.

Grivel tools are light, which matters for swing after swing.

Grivel tools are well suited for both ice and alpine objectives: One stop shopping!


New for 2018, the re-crafted North Machine Carbon and Tech Machine Carbon both feature aerospace composite shafts: thin aluminum inside and carbon fiber outside with the option of hammers or adzes and blade (what we call pick) of choice (see below). The grip remains small and easy to handle with a perfectly balanced swing weight.

North Machine

  • My personal favorite
  • Lightweight technical tool designed for ice climbing and alpinism
  • Excels on high north faces where mixed terrain is common
  • Tech rated, carbon fiber shaft with small grip and spike for alpine ascents and all around climbing.
  • MSRP $289.95

Tech Machine

  • Designed primarily for ice climbing and dry tooling where vertical to overhanging challenges are more characteristic.
  • Radically bent shaft easily clears bulges and cauliflowers with a stable for shape hooking both ice and rock.
  • MSRP $329.95.


Grivel makes four different, interchangeable, picks for their Machine tools.

Hot Forged, Chromoly Steel Blades:


  • This 3mm pick is perfectly suited for all types of ice


  • This beefy 4.2mm pick is designed for the abuses of mixed climbing.

*New for 2018 Laser Cut Steel Blades:

Cascade Plus

  • Specifically for ice
  • Very narrow shape easily pierces ice, but also cleans easier

Dry Plus

  • Specifically for dry tooling
  • wider and more burly than any other Grivel pick
  • Downturned tip makes it easier to hook rock

Chicks is proud to have Grivel as a Silver Level Sponsor. Chicks clinic participants have the opportunity to experience Grivel’s high quality products during any one of our ice climbing programs.

Get a New Attitude

Kitty Calhoun climbing the Ice pillar, "The Bone" near Telluride, co

Red rock, a pillar of virgin ice, Cobras and my pink jacket… And some people ask, “Why?!”

Black Diamond Equipment was originally founded as Chouinard Equipment by Yvon Chouinard. Chouinard was a visionary big wall, ice and alpine climber who also happened to be an ironworker.  In his classic book, Climbing Ice, Yvon states,

In 1967 Tom Frost and I not only designed a new ‘alpine hammer’ with a drooping pick, but also brought out an adjustable, rigid crampon…Armed with these new tools, American climbers began approaching steep ice with a new attitude.”

To this day, Black Diamond continues the tradition of supporting a new attitude towards climbing through advances in materials and design of technical ice tools.

Here’s the “skinny” on the 3 BD ice tools that I use (although, there’s a new ground-breaking one reportedly in the works).

Black Diamond Ice Tools: Fuel Hammer, Cobra, Viper

Black Diamond Ice Tools: Fuel Hammer, Cobra, Viper

Black Diamond Ice Tools: Fuel Hammer, Cobra, Viper

*Fuel Hammer – is a high performance tool for steep ice and overhanging rock. Because of its offset grip, the swing is slightly shortened and downward, which for some is more “natural.”

The offset grip also makes it better for hooking on rock and steep ice.

Although the Fuel Hammer is slightly heavier then the regular Fuel, I prefer it on ice because I can bang my palm up against the hammer to loosen a stuck pick. A hammer is also necessary to place and remove pitons in the mountains.

*Cobra – is made from carbon-fiber (as opposed to the aluminum Fuel and Viper), which makes it stronger and more rigid for its weight.  Although it costs $150 more than the Fuel, the carbon fiber material translates into a tool that vibrates less upon impact, is slightly lighter (1 oz), and is warmer on the hands.

The Cobra has a traditional grip, meaning that the swinging motion is more like throwing a ball, and some claim that is more “natural” for them. It has the most clearance of any tool, which makes it better for clearing mushrooms and bulges.

The Cobra is a good tool for moderate mixed, ice, and alpine.  It’s my tool of choice for most of my ice and alpine climbs.

*Viper – is an all-around tool for ice and alpine. It is aluminum, so costs less than the Cobra, but otherwise climbs quite similarly. The pinky rest can be removed for better spike placement on a steep snow slope, and the secondary grip can be moved up and down the shaft, or removed for alpine climbing as well. It is perfect for someone who wants a good, technical tool but usually climbs less than vertical rock and ice.

Black Diamond also has four picks – the Mixed, Ice, Ice Plus and Alpine.

The Mixed pick is thicker for increased strength and durability with aggressive front teeth for hooking.

The Ice pick has a thin nose and low volume tip for minimal ice displacement.

The Ice Plus pick is 2 degrees less steep (more open pick angle) for a more open swing on pure ice.

The Alpine pick is a more burly for mixed alpine terrain.

I asked physics professor, BD athlete, ice and alpine climbing maestro and all-round great guy, Raphael Slawinski, how he would compare the Fuel with the Cobra.  He said,

“It’s a tossup between the Cobra and the Fuel. The Cobra has a more intuitive swing, but once you get used to the Fuel, it swings really well too (especially with the Ice+ pick, which has a more relaxed angle. And I find the Fuel grip more restful to hang from. As a result, I do almost all my pure ice climbing with a pair of Fuels. The only place I use the Cobras these days is in the alpine, where I’m going to be swinging into hard 60-degree ice fields. The Cobras do better on that kind of lower-angle terrain.”

Ultimately, my advice is to take advantage of demo opportunities to decide what works for you, keep a good attitude and keep on swinging.



Kitty's favourite GU flavours

Kitty’s favourite GU flavours

My most difficult ski tours have been approaches to winter alpine objectives—breaking trail for miles through deep snow toward majestic peaks that beckon with the satisfaction of a challenging route.

When I was younger, I commonly packed nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies for these long days out in the mountains. As a result, my energy levels spiked and crashed according to my Chips Ahoy intake, each cookie giving me decreasing returns.

Over the years, I learned that in terms of success and safety, proper nutrition in the backcountry is just as important as proper gear.

I’ve lived the truth in renowned climbing trainer and author, Erik Horst’s statement that “Most climbers can realize a 10-20% improvement in performance, recovery, concentration, and energy through thoughtful diet.”

Most significantly, I know that when I’m tired and low on energy I’m more likely to make judgment errors, which I can’t afford, especially if I’m navigating in avalanche terrain. My brain needs calories to process the information it’s taking in.

I need to stay focused and calm. I can’t be hangry.

This is why I take planned fuel breaks.

One of the ways I plan my breaks is with nature’s cues. For example, when the sun sets and the temperature drops, I stop, pull on another layer, rip open a GU and start to sip some hydration mix.

I’ve been using GU instead of chocolate chip cookies for about 20 years now. Actually, truth alert, I still eat chocolate chip cookies but not nearly as many. And, I supplement the cookies with timely gel intake and hydration mix. This makes all the difference. My energy levels stay even. I stay focused. And, I feel way better the next day, ready to do it all again.

Patagonia DAS Parka Review

Let me tell you about one of my favorite pieces of outdoor clothing: The DAS parka made by Patagonia. There is no better jacket made for cold winter days! It keeps you warm, whether you’re hanging at the belay on a climb or tagging a summit on a big ski day. I got my first version of this garment when I started guiding on Denali some ten years ago. Before that, I had for years insisted on flimsy down jackets to see me through the Colorado winters, although usually with quite a few shivers and cold hands and feet to go with it. That barely worked, and it wasn’t always comfortable. 

When Alaska called, however, I needed something warm for North America’s highest mountain.  Still, in the days of overstuffed 8,000’ down parkas, which fit the Michelin Man and his wallet a lot better than me, I was looking for more reasonable options that could withstand the rigors of the arctic environment. Enter the DAS Parka.  It was the required piece of equipment on the summit ridge of Denali at 20,000’ and kept me warm on 25 days of expedition life, but the super alpine is not it’s the only playground.  Since my DAS parka was red, it matched my ski patrol uniform, and on extra cold mornings I’d cozy up in it, riding the ski lift to work.  Often, the clear mornings after a snowstorm would reach record low temperatures, and we would be standing on a ridge high above treeline, throwing bombs to make avalanches before the runs would open.  It was so cold that your skis wouldn’t even slide on the snow.  I’d have my DAS parka on and my hood synched tight around my goggles – my only chance to stay warm. 

Nowadays, I have a new version, it’s blue (my favorite color), and I don’t leave home without it, come November.  Call me soft in my old age, but I like being warm! It stays in the car during the day when only the early mornings and late evenings are cold in early winter, but it’s there when I need it.  It travels with me when I cross over Togwotee Pass on the way to climbing ice in Cody – it hasn’t happened to me yet, but what if my car stalled out at the bottom of Togwotee Pass where cool air sinks into the valley and commonly creates Temperatures of -25F. 

Insulation technology is so great these days: this jacket features 120g/m2 Primaloft insulation (think more warmth, less bulk).  For long multi-pitch ice routes, I can easily fit the DAS in my climbing pack to pull out during cold belays, or when descending in icy wind at the end of the day. 

The cut is generous, fitting over a harness full of gear or extra layers.  The pockets are big, allowing for insulated storage of crucial items such as your spare gloves for the next pitch.  I have even stuck my thermos into the inside jacket pocket to keep a hot drink handy.  The hood fits over my helmet and keeps the wind and spindrift off my neck.

The DAS also works great for skiing, fitting over my lighter jackets that I wear on the ascent.  It’s lightweight, water-resistant and windproof nylon shell keeps the elements out. I have used the DAS on the ski area as well as in the backcountry.  I pull it out of my pack when taking a break and revel in its coziness.  It has me covered getting off the Jackson Hole tram in blizzard conditions.  Don’t think that it’s only appropriate for epic days, though – it works great for walking to the post office, too.  And all the mail fits in its pockets.

Silverton Avalanche School

Earning backcountry turns at the Red Mountain Pass area of the San Juan Mountains, Colorado. Photo Credit: Louis Arevalo

New Partnership with the Silverton Avalanche Schoolchicks with stix logo

Chicks is delighted to announce our new Partnership with the Silverton Avalanche School. Working with SAS allows us to expand our ski and splitboard offerings closer to home and add avalanche education with certification to our all-women’s backcountry courses.  Since we launched into backcountry ski offerings two years ago we’ve shared turns with many of you on Red Mountain Pass and the Opus Hut area, we’ve heli-skied with Telluride Helitrax and ran our first avalanche course with AAI in Jackson. We’ve gone international to Japan and La Grave, France and now we’re really going to get this party started with the Silverton Avalanche School.  We hope you’ll join us for our first season together. 

The Silverton Avalanche School is a non-profit organization that has been in operation since 1962 and educated over 4000 students from beginners to top-level professionals.  They’ve been industry leaders in avalanche education, teaching folks how to recognize avalanche hazards, determine snow stability, organize and carry out rescue operations and become competent backcountry travelers for 55 years. 

Located in the heart of the San Juan Mountains at 9,318 feet in Silverton, Colorado there is no better classroom to learn about avalanches.  The San Juan Mountains have some of the most accessible, active and well-known avalanche paths anywhere with a snowpack world-famous for it’s dynamic qualities.  SAS courses are taught by nationally recognized members of the American Avalanche Association, AIARE and the Canadian Avalanche Association with instructors widely known for their expertise and passion for snow safety and backcountry fun. 

“We are excited to partner up with Chicks Climbing and Skiing to offer women’s specific avalanche and backcountry ski training. This partnership fills a gap that we have seen in avalanche education.  Chicks Climbing and Skiing brings a wealth of guiding and training experience that goes unmatched.  Empowering women to go into the backcountry and avalanche terrain is close to our heart and we are honored to work with Chicks to make this happen.”
Jim Donovan, Director Silverton Avalanche School

It’s a match made on a mountaintop and we can’t wait to take your backcountry skills to the next level with our new partnership. SAS’s female instructors are some of the most experienced, passionate avalanche educators in the country. Combined with our certified IFMGA / AMGA Ski Guides we have the most qualified women in the industry to make your backcountry experience unique, world-class and unforgettable.  As the first and most successful all-women’s climbing program in the country with an 18-year track record, it’s only natural that we expand our mountain sport offerings to include backcountry skiing with a focus on safety and avalanche education. 

Why choose Chicks and the Silverton Avalanche School?

Because we do women’s programs better than anyone else and partnering with the Silverton Avalanche School and their 55-year track record gives you the confidence to know you’re in the best hands, you’ll get top shelf world-class instruction and it’s definitely going to be fun.

Dates for our winter line up of ski, splitboard and avalanche education events will be announced in the coming weeks.  Stay tuned for more details including dates, course descriptions, pricing, and registration.  Visit www.avyschool.com to check out the Silverton Avalanche School.

Petzl Sirocco Helmet

petzl sirocco helmetThe Petzl Sirocco Helmet has been updated and is better than ever. It features top, side and rear impact zone protection which makes it the go to helmet for rock, alpine and general mountaineering.

It covers more of your head, has a lower profile than it’s predecessor and weighs 170 grams, which is slightly more than the weight of your smartphone. In fact it’s so light you may forget that you are wearing a helmet at all.

Read more about why this is going to be your new go to helmet for all your mountain adventures.


Cassie Tweed Designs Osprey Packs

Meet Real Chick Cassie Tweed, the Director of Design for Osprey Packs

We thought we’d sit down with Cassie Tweed, Director of Design for Osprey Packs, to chat with her about just what goes into making women’s specific packs and share that with you. With her leading role at Osprey, we also thought it would be interesting to learn what makes Cassie tick to be such a productive, inspiring leader in the industry. This short video is a great start to gain some insight into her work:

Cassie, Osprey has been a leader in pack design for decades and has put a lot of effort into creating women’s specific packs.  Can you tell us a few key concepts or things that go into making a women’s specific fit that may not be obvious? 
It’s all about the shape of the harness and hipbelt in addition to the different torso lengths available, which is a bit more obvious.  The shape of the harness and hipbelt is more subtle.  The hipbelt is curved to create a conical shape which women’s tend to have and the harness is a contoured to fit the curves of a woman’s chest.  The better the fit, the better the load transfers, and the more comfortable the pack ☺

Are there other aspects of design that you put into women’s specific packs that have put Osprey in the lead with such a wide range of offerings that are women specific? 
Other than fit, aesthetics is another high priority.  This means colors and some subtle patterning changes for a softer, less aggressive look where appropriate.  The function and performance of the bag is exactly the same as men’s.  These details are designed for the activity which is not a gender specific issue.

How long have you been with Osprey and what do you love about your work there? 
I’ve been with Osprey since 2010.  I love that I get to design packs and then go use them.  Hiking and traveling the world is part of the job!  I love that designing packs means designing for experiences.  A successful pack means you don’t notice it on your back.  You notice the beauty of the mountain range in front of you.  I love  that I get to work great people in Vietnam and live a wild expat life ☺

Who are your role models, heroines or heroes, and why?
I’ve never really had specific role models or idols.  I am however inspired by all the women before me and around me, fueling an energy that’s a part of me and greater than me.

What is your favorite thing to do when you’re not working? 
Living in Vietnam is a bit different than if I was at home in California.  At home, you could find me on the beach or walking through the local wilderness everyday with weekend trips to the mountains, backpacking, camping or snowboarding.  In Vietnam, I like to take in the culture.  Going on various motorbike trips around town, eating the amazing food and taking photos. I try to get out of the city once a month to some of the bordering countries like Cambodia or Thailand.  Travel is so easy in SE Asia!  And generally, I’m pretty good at relaxing and hanging about by the pool with this 100 degree weather every day!

What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t find online? 
That’s a hard one… I’m not sure I know what’s online about me! Hah…  Well, I think maybe that I’m not a hardcore outdoors, sports enthusiast.  I think a lot of women in the outdoor industry that are highlighted usually are doing some crazy things like climbing big walls and summiting big peaks.  I’m not sure if I’m grouped into that category, but I feel there’s a bit of stereotyping (and it’s probably a bit telling that that is what I see…).  Anyways, what’s interesting about me maybe is that I am just like so many other women out there.  I love being outside and connecting with nature.  I also love working my body.  And when those 2 things happen together, its spiritual.

How would you describe yourself in one to three words?
Learner of life.

What are the top three factors that you attribute to your success?
Thinking positively (i.e. knowing I will succeed in some form or another), Listening, and treating every failure as a learning opportunity / all pain as an opportunity for growth.

What were you like when you were in high school?
High School was kind of intimidating to me. I was athletic and played sports, but for the most part, kept to myself and got good grades.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
Haha I love this question.  I don’t know, but I know I’ll find out when the time comes.  When I was younger I knew indefinitely that I would to be an artist, an architect, or the first professional female baseball player.  It was good to have a goal but I may have limited myself.  Now I know that there is so much more joy in not knowing and not limiting myself.

Can you tell us what particular Osprey Products you are most excited about in the women’s line and anything new we can expect to see in the line that would be of interest to our technically oriented women who like to get after it in the outdoors?
I really love the Aura AG and Tempest packs.  Both are supper comfortable and conform really nicely to all different shapes of bodies.  As for the more technically oriented women, the Kresta and Dyna are a couple of our high performance products that came out recently.  Kresta is a ski and backcountry sports pack and Dyna is a body hugging trail running hydration vest.

As an inspiration and leader in the movement of women’s specific design can you give our readers any words of wisdom that you’ve learned along the way that have made so successful and productive? 
Follow your heart.  And if you don’t know what that is, that’s Ok, I’ve been in this position so many times.  When I’m not sure, I go outside, be quiet and listen.  Trust what you feel deep down and follow it.

Thanks Cassie, we appreciate your time and can’t wait to see what you’ve got in the works for 2018! 
Thank you ☺

**This is the first in a series of Interviews that Chicks Co-Owner Angela Hawse is doing with women behind the Brands that support Chicks.  Osprey Packs has been a long-time supporter of Chicks Climbing and Skiing and we are a huge fan of their products and people. We know first hand that Osprey makes the best women’s specific packs on the market.  Most of you who have attended a Chicks program have had the opportunity to demo a women’s specific Osprey Packs.

Chicks partners with REI Outessa

REI Announces 2017 Outessa Retreats Designed To Connect Women with the Outdoors Through Experiences, Inspiration and Adventures

REI, the outdoor co-op and national specialty retailer, announced its 2017 REI Outessa retreats with three immersive, three-day outdoor adventures designed to connect women with the outdoors in a supportive learning environment. Two of Chicks co-owners, Kitty Calhoun and Elaina Arenz, will be attending all three events to lead the instructional climbing clinics with the support of Petzl, our Gold Level Sponsor, as official REI Outessa Ambassadors.

Now in its second year, the REI Outessa getaways are filled with activities and inspiration, offer access to coveted gear and products, serve up great food and wine, and create the environment for making new friends and lasting memories. Registration is now open at www.REI.com/Outessa.
“Whether you are an experienced outdoors person or someone who’s thinking about trying new activities, Outessa is about getting away from it all and reconnecting with the outdoors,” said Susan Viscon, REI senior vice president of merchandising and board member of Camber Outdoors. “We heard some amazing stories from participants last year and we are expanding the retreats in 2017. This fun environment is designed by – and for – a supportive community of women who like adventure.”

2017 REI Outessa events will be held at three breathtaking mountain playgrounds. Destinations were chosen for their inspirational alpine environments, sweeping views, pristine lake, and adventure-ready terrain with miles of trails for running, hiking and mountain biking. Each offer resort hospitality and proximity to major airports, making travel easy for participants. The dates and locations are:

  • July 14-16: Kirkwood Mountain Resort in Kirkwood, California near South Lake Tahoe
  • August 18-20: Mt. Hood Skibowl in Government Camp, Oregon and 12 miles from the Mt. Hood National Forest
  • September 22-24: Waterville Valley Resort in Waterville, New Hampshire in the White Mountain National Forest

Be sure t0 stay up to date on the latest details through the REI Outessa Facebook Page.

Subaru Adventure Team Alpine Rock Scholarship

Subaru Alpine Scholarship

Chicks is proud to announce our Second Annual Scholarship in partnership with Subaru Adventure Team. One lucky winner will earn a spot in our Teton Alpine Climbing Camp in Jackson, WY. All you need to do is share a photo along with a short essay about why you want to attend the clinic, encourage your friends to vote and share on your social channels.

Subaru Adventure Team will swag you out and cover your tuition cost for the Teton Alpine Climbing Program. Not only that but Petzl will also kit you out with a bunch of sweet new gear you’ll need for the trip too.

Enter by May 25th and we will announce a winner on May 29th.