Taking up a new outdoor hobby like backcountry skiing is not only a great way to get in some much-needed cardio, but it’s also a fun way to fill the long, cold winter months. Rather than sit inside all winter long, you might as well take advantage of that fresh powder outside, strap on a pair of skis, and hit the backcountry instead.
Before you do that, though, check out this beginner’s guide to backcountry skiing. Following these tips, tricks, and techniques will help you to stay safe, have fun, and improve your skiing skills for an overall better experience.
Always Familiarize Yourself with the Area First
No matter where you’re skiing, it’s really important that you get educated on avalanches and the high-risk areas of your skiing location before heading out. The word “backcountry” is exactly as it sounds, so there’s no immediate access to a ski lodge or patrol like there is with alpine ski resorts. You’re basically on your own, and there are definitely risks involved.
Avalanches pose the biggest risk for skiers, so take the time to get trained on avalanche safety. Official courses and training sessions are often offered for free as a motivator for new skiers to get the proper training. These courses focus on all the basics, like where and why avalanches happen and a simple approach to managing this risk in the backcountry.
Start with a Skill/Fitness Assessment
With any new hobby, some people jump in headfirst without thinking twice. This isn’t a smart idea if that new hobby is an outdoor winter sport like backcountry skiing. Although you don’t have to be a pro in order to explore the untouched wintery wonderlands in your area, you do need to know where you rank in terms of fitness and skill level.
That way, you can better choose your next ski trip based on the terrain and challenges. Say you assess your fitness level in a controlled area and come to find out that you’re not capable of climbing uphill in fresh powder, then you now know that you should avoid areas with too many hills.
Before embarking on a backcountry adventure, you might consider signing up for a group class or private session with a certified ski instructor that’s geared towards beginners. That way, you can learn the basics and figure out the skills that most need work in a safe learning environment.
Invest In All the Right Gear
Like most outdoor sports, you’ll need a decent amount of gear to make the most of your backcountry ski trips. A lot of this equipment serves the purpose of keeping you warm, but some of it is meant strictly for safety while other bits and pieces are all about promoting a smooth ride.
First, make sure you have all your necessary avalanche safety equipment, like an avalanche transceiver, shovel, probe, and airbag packs. Then you can start focusing on the actual ski equipment, like the skis, bindings, and boots. Any pair of downhill usually does the trick, but if you plan on only skiing backcountry, then go for a lighter pair.
While it may be tempting to rent gear in order to save money, it’s highly recommended that you invest in your own, especially if you plan for this new hobby to stick. If you’re on a budget, start with the basics and buy only the gear that’s truly necessary, then you can add in more gear over time.
Spend Time Planning Out Your Backcountry Tour
When you hit the ski slopes for an afternoon of alpine/downhill skiing, there’s not nearly as much planning involved as there is with a backcountry tour. First off, you have everything you need right at your fingertips and easy access to assistance if anything does go wrong.
For that reason, you need to spend some time planning out your trip. The first step is to wrangle up some friends (or at least one) to go with. Skiing backcountry isn’t a solo sport, and you should never even go alone. Even if you don’t have any friends or family interested in skiing, there are usually a lot of organized group outings in popular skiing destinations.
Once you’ve got your group figured out, next check the avalanche forecast, choose a specific destination (somewhere that’s beginner-friendly) and do the proper research on the tour you’ve chosen. There are a lot of great resources out there that give in-depth info on different backcountry routes, so utilize them.