Backcountry Skiing

What to know if you wanna go

Backcountry skiing is not for everyone. It can involve long, hard climbs, nasty weather, bad conditions, and high risk. For the dedicated few who partake, the natural experience of earning one’s turns is more rewarding than a thousand laps at the resort. While there are many prerequisites to backcountry skiing, surprisingly enough, the ability to ski is not one of them. Here are a few.

Enjoy a Good Sweat
However trite, “earn your turns” is a phrase that accurately describes backcountry skiing: every turn you make must be climbed for. If you’re lucky, that climbing will take you through a foot or two of fresh snow, making the ascent much more difficult. Steep slopes, rocky ridgelines, and variable conditions are expected. Anyone who enjoys endurance and pushing the body to its physical capacity will enjoy this aspect of backcountry skiing.

Understand the Snowpack
Snow science cannot be summed up in one article; however, anyone traveling in avalanche terrain should have a basic understanding of the season’s snowpack. Throughout the winter season, Mother Nature lays down a wide variety of snow layers. Wind and temperature can drastically change each layer. Sometimes these changes strengthen the snowpack, but just as often these changes weaken it. When the snowpack is weak, a backcountry skier could be the trigger that sets off an avalanche.

A great way to keep tabs on the winter snowpack is to check your local avalanche-forecasting center. It’s not enough just to check the day before an outing, though. Log on to the center’s website a few times a week for the updated avalanche report (the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center has a daily email you can sign up for). Continually check conditions to keep updated on how the snow is stacking up.

But remember: checking the forecast is only one step. Carry all proper avalanche rescue gear, ski with a partner who you trust, and take an avalanche class before traveling into backcountry terrain.

Desire for Adventure
Any outdoor activity that requires an individual to sweat profusely, understand snow dynamics, and endure various extremes is an adventure. If your main goal is to learn how to ski or get a lot of turns, then backcountry skiing may not be for you. However, if your goal is to have the time of your life, then get out there and earn your turns.