A Beginner’s Guide to Backcountry Skiing

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Nov 13, 2013 | By Dan Abrams

A guest post from our friend Dan Abrams, the President and Co-Founder of Flylow Gear.

Skiing as a sport has now evolved to a world that extends beyond gates and boundaries. More and more skiers and snowboarders are venturing into backcountry terrain, skinning uphill in search of untracked powder without the hassle of lift lines, ticket prices, and the general mayhem of modern ski resorts.   

However, to partake in the euphoric and rewarding sport of backcountry touring you must respect it. Follow the rules and understand the risks—or else your serene day in the backcountry can turn into your worst nightmare.

As a backcountry skier who has experienced both the highs and utter lows, here are a few tips to follow when getting into the backcountry:

1. Get Informed

Take an introduction to avalanche safety class. These are taught in every mountain community and a lot of urban ones as well. Find a course near you at avalanche.org.

2. Get the Gear

You need to equip yourself with the necessary backcountry tools, including a beacon, shovel, and probe. More backcountry travelers are choosing to wear airbag backpacks now as well. However, do not forget that the gear does nothing without the knowledge of how to use it. Learn how to use your gear and practice rescue scenarios before you head out.

3. Check your local avalanche reports

Try to do this frequently and as close to the time are departing so the information is the most accurate. Read the weather forecasts, study maps and do as much pre-planning and research for your trip as you can. Discuss your route and goals for the day with your partners.

4. Have a plan

Most importantly, have realistic goals, like to get some exercise and have a fun ride down. You always need to have plans B, C, and D, and be ready to make smart decisions in the field. Backcountry skiers have to have goals that can change based on weather and snow conditions. Your mission cannot be to summit a peak every day no matter what. Instead, the goal must be to enjoy the ski while focusing on ensuring you will live to ski another day.

5. Make your own decisions

Group dynamics and human factors play a huge role in staying safe in the backcountry. Listen to your instincts and make decisions for the right reasons. 

Now that I have skied in all types of scenarios in the backcountry, I find I look forward to safe, low-angle powder skiing in the backcountry mid-season and steeper lines in the spring when the snowpack consolidates.

I also find that guided skiing is a blast and you can learn a ton from going out with a guide. Plus, we have a lot of great ski guides in North America, so find one from your local backcountry shop and have a great, safe day in the mountains.

Images ©Flylow.

Check out more from Dan at Flylow Gear.