No matter how you do it, getting outdoors during winter is a Utah staple. Snowshoeing ranks among the most popular ways to enjoy the Wasatch winter wonderland, and when steep trails and deep snow come into play, you’ll certainly need equipment you can count on. MSR makes a full range of snowshoes for everyone from the casual trekker to the serious mountaineer, and they sent me a pair of their most teched-out shoes for testing. The MSR Lightning Ascents certainly look impressive, so I headed out to some of the meanest conditions in the state to find out if they could live up to the hype.
The first thought I had when I saw the Lightning Ascents was, “aggressive.” Rightfully so, as MSR describes them as the “most aggressive snowshoe” in their lineup. 360 Traction Frames are the foundation for these sinister looking shoes, and at 3 lbs 13 oz they are definitely lightweight; hell, an average pair of hiking boots weighs more! Torsion 2 crampons with split teeth are situated right under the user’s toes, and are designed to distribute force and provide constant contact with the snow (no slipping when the surface under your feet changes from snow to ice). The other pivotal piece of tech on the Lightning Ascents are the Ergo Televators located near the heels. When they are engaged on steep terrain, the user has maximum stability with reduced fatigue. It all sounds pretty fancy, so I loaded up my pack and a sled full of adult beverages to see how they fared in the harsh winter conditions of the Uinta Mountains.
The many winter routes originating from the North Slope Trailhead provided the testing grounds for the MSR Lightning Ascents. I wore winter hiking boots as my main footwear, and fastened the MSRs on. The first thing I noticed was how easy it is to clamp into these snowshoes. The PosiLock AT bindings cradled my feet, and the plastic pulls are wide and easy to grip. Tons of attachment holes means finding the perfect fit for your boots should be no sweat. I took off across the miles of groomed trails, making easy time with the Lightning Ascents on. Aggressive is right! The treads on these shoes where overkill for the maintained trails: several times I looked behind me and realized the MSRs were making minced meat of the finely groomed route! I never so much as slipped, even though I was carrying a 20 lb pack and at times had a sled full of beer roped to me. That’s traction you can rely on.
While the Lightning Ascents were a bit much for the main route, they were right at home when it came time for a long day hike through largely ungroomed terrain. The route to Deadman’s Pass is a steep, 400′ traverse, and on this day it was stacked with fresh powder. I flipped the Ergo Televators into position (just a matter of reaching back and popping them up with my trekking poles), and started breaking trail. I was very impressed with the Lightning Ascent snowshoes; they seemed very happy in the difficult conditions. I sank but a few inches in the fresh snow with every step, and my feet didn’t wear down thanks to the ultralight weight. Toe pointing in these shoes has a very natural feel, a welcome change from the awkward nature of other snowshoes I have worn. Again I was impressed by the ease of binding adjustments: stopping mid-trail to get my feet cinched tighter took only a few minutes, and despite temperatures hovering around 0 degrees, the components never showed signs of freezing. Back on the wind-scoured groomers, conditions changed from soft snow to hardpack every few feet, and the menacing teeth of the Lightning Ascents stuck like glue no matter what surface they were on.
All told, I wore the MSR Lightning Ascents for a three day tour of the area, and they never failed to impress. Whether it was chopping up the groomers or breaking trail in light, Utah powder, these snowshoes could handle it. Steep ascents were no problem, and the crampons even made long downhill sections less painful. The super-aggressive nature of the Lightning Ascents is not for the casual trekker; but, if you are looking for shoes that can slay any condition and help you toe point your way to a winter peak, look no further. And when you dole out your hard-earned pennies for a pair, you can feel good knowing the MSR Lightning Ascents are made right here in the US of A. Snowshoeing…F@%$ YEAH!
The Good: Binding are easy to adjust, crampons and treads provide excellent traction, ultralight design
The Bad: Too aggressive for casual trekking
The Verdict: The MSR Lightning Ascents are top performers in any condition, and especially impressive for tough, snowy climbs.