To many skiers, backcountry skiing sounds intimidating. Going to seldom-visited areas, dodging avalanches, skiing between cliffs and dangerous terrains sounds like quite the daredevil activity, but reality is different in most ways. Backcountry skiing is what you want it to be. It can be a safe and enjoyable activity . Beginners have a point though by saying this is all a bit confusing. What to start with? How to make this all look less overwhelming? The obvious and often heard answer is : Take an AST-1 course. This is a great idea, but there is a lot more to the backcountry skier's skillset. This Backcountry 101 will cover the different aspects of backcountry skiing as well as useful resources.
So you’ve made the decision. You’re going to start backcounty skiing where everyday is a powder day and each picture will net you hundreds of likes on the ‘gram. Here’s the problem; you don’t really know what it’s all about. We hope you like hiking.
Duncan B enjoying some early season powder
For resort skiers, backcountry skiing can offer a change of pace and a break from the crowds. Unfortunately if your skiing isn’t up to scratch you’re going to have to spend more time at the resort. There is no better way to get better at skiing than by skiing, and you can’t get the sort of volume you get at the resort on the skin track. A baseline level of ability is mandatory.
We think that being able to ski any ungroomed blue run in any condition with absolute control and good technique is the minimum ability level you need before you start heading out. Sound tough? It can be. Remember there’s no one making sure the snow you’re out on is deep enough, or cutting down pesky trees in the middle of your run, or moving chunks of debris out of the run. Although powder is somewhat common in the backcountry, a lot of your turns will also involve variable conditions like hardpack, crust, heavy snow, etc. Make sure you know how to adjust your skiing to any sort of conditions you might encounter, especially if you dream of high alpine and glaciers.
It’s also important to know how your gear will respond. You know those fancy new (or old) touring sticks you got and the uber light boots? Take them to the resort for a day. Resort snow is generally harder than what you’ll experience off piste so it’s great for putting your new skis through their paces. When you’re only doing three or four laps in the backcountry you’ve got to maximise enjoyment in every turn. Confidence in your gear will help with this.
written in collaboration with Kieran Crimeen