It was a wild realization when we got back to the truck and looked at the clock. We’d spent a good amount of time that morning hanging by the fire, then put in a solid lap on the skis and splitboard. Yet there was still plenty of time to get to work.
With a wood fire, that would have been impossible.
Earlier in the predawn dark, we parked high at 10,830 feet. The peaks rose higher still. You could almost hear them scraping ice from the stars as the thermometer flashed some pitifully small number. The snow groaned beneath our boots.
We’re not ones to be turned away by cold. Not when there’s lines to be skied. But getting going in the cold like that, well, it usually takes some mental fortitude.
But not this time. This time, we were comfy. We had a secret weapon of warmth: a propane fire pit that lets you party in a cold snap.
Now “party” is a relative term for what exactly we were doing at 6 a.m. on a Wednesday. Our venue was relaxed – a warm, quiet circle of camp chairs glowing brightly at the edge of the woods. We sat warm by the fire, casually sliding on our ski boots, plying our skins, finishing off our coffee, and going over the avalanche report.
So why use propane, and not wood?
Maybe we could have had just as nice a time around a wood fire. But no one’s letting you burn wood in a parking area like this. Not at a Forest Service trailhead, not in the base area of a resort, and not anywhere else you’d gear up to go slide around on snow. There’s just no one out there who’s cool with you leaving them with a mess of ash and coals to clean up.
But that’s a nonissue with propane fires. They’re stealthy. They’re ninja mode. When you leave, it’s like you were never there.
But there was an even bigger reason: time. If we’d tried to build a wood fire that morning, we would have been digging out ice-encrusted sticks, working hard to get them lit, and working to keep them burning as they sunk into a snow hole. In the winter, wood fires take forever, and they usually do the opposite of what you want. They’re kind of like babysitting a toddler.
But a propane fire can actually keep up. It acts like one of the crew. When you want it on, it lights instantly. When you want to take a hot lap, just toss it in your rig, ski down, then light it again. Propane fires work at your speed, rather than fighting you at every step.
And that was the big realization that morning. This fire pit was so easy, it left us more than enough time to enjoy the campfire and the ski tour. We never felt rushed by the punch clock.
Not all propane fires like to party
If we were using an old-school propane fire pit, the flames wouldn’t have cut it. Sure, flames would have given us light to work by, but we already carry headlamps for that. Headlamps are cheaper, smaller, lighter, and easier to pack – an all-around better solution to the problem of darkness.
The dark wasn’t really our problem, cold was, and we needed palpable heat to make hanging out and gearing up enjoyable. We needed a propane fire pit so powerful, it could create its own microclimate.
How do you create a microclimate? Well, every bit of heat in our environment comes from the sun. If you want to make a warm microclimate, just use the same kind of heat.
If you look, you can see that the sun looks nothing like the dainty dancing flame of a propane fire. And it’s not just blowing hot air around like it’s blowing kisses. No. That white hot ball of nuclear fusion takes one look at you, takes aim, and doesn’t stop blasting you with rays of radiation until you leave the line of sight.
Wood coals actually do the same thing, glowing bright as they blast you with radiant heat. And that’s why wood fires are so warm.
So you need a propane fire that works like the sun, like wood coals.
One that puts out thigh-melting radiant heat. And lucky for us, that’s what we had along, the HOWL Campfire.
But it’s more than just heat. You need a campfire that simply flips bad weather the bird, one that handles any conditions you can throw at it.
The HOWL stays lit in gale force winds, so that problem no longer exists. More than a few times we’ve packed it full of snow to see what it would do, and it still just lights right up. It works at every altitude on earth – like on this morning at 10,830 ft. And if the temperature really drops, like to the point your diesel fuel freezes and your rig won’t start, it’s nothing to shiver about. One time we ungelled a fella’s diesel motor with the HOWL, and he got right back on the road.
So that’s what the HOWL can do.
But the more time we’ve spent with the HOWL this season in ski area parking lots and backcountry trailheads, the more we’ve gotten to see how it shifts the entire skiing experience. Every pre- and apres-ski hang becomes so much more enjoyable. We’re no longer spending our time huddled in crowded base lodges, or cramming into the truck with the engine idling. We can just sit outside enjoying the fresh air and eating snacks until we’re ready to go again. It’s been especially at midday when we come back to hang with the dogs. It’s perfect for posting up and toss them a ball.
Now here’s the thing. If you’re going to use your HOWL in the dead of winter, there’s a little more science you should know.
Since the BarCoals work just like the sun, it matters what you wear. Light colors reflect rays of light, while dark colors absorb them. If you want to get warmer faster, wear dark colors.
Also, the more insulation you have on, the longer it will take for the radiant heat to penetrate through and reach your skin. To warm up faster, just peel back some of the layers between you and the BarCoal.
Now whether you’ve got a HOWL or not, we hope you get outside a lot this winter. Cold weather has a way sometimes of stuffing you back inside the boxes of civilization. It can be a real fight to keep your desk, your couch, or your screens from putting you in a chokehold.
Whatever it takes, get out to a spot this weekend where you can breathe, carve out some space for yourself, and cut your ties to the man-made world for a while.
Keep carrying the fire,
– Randall, Alex, Kelly, Nicholas, Diego, and Vince