There’s no denying it — for the first time since lift-accessed terrain became popular, human-powered skiing is making a comeback. Maybe it’s rapidly increasing lift ticket prices, the progressive technology aimed at backcountry travel, motivation to become physically fit or simply all of the photos popping up on our Instagram feeds contributing to this increase
in popularity. But regardless, until climate change puts a stop to it, backcountry skiing is here to stay.
Regardless of whether it’s your first time leaving your favorite resort in search of serenity and powder turns, or you are an old-timer who has been earning your turns since before high-speed detachable quads existed, here are a few tips from backcountry skiers and riders for getting after it.
— Store your skins in your jacket, and know the avalanche forecast | “For quick transitions, fold up your skins and store them inside your jacket for the downhill. Your body heat will melt any snow and ice and keep the glue in good shape for the next uphill.
“Also, know the avalanche forecast, be aware of the hazards and choose your terrain accordingly.” — Ian Ferguson, publisher of Wild Northeast Magazine
— Have no expectations of a summit and keep snacks accessible | “Approach your trip with zero expectations, seriously. One of the best ways to stay safe is to head out without the expectation of making it to the summit, gaining 10,000 vertical, or finding the deepest of the deep. My father always told me, ‘You win some, you lose some, and some are rained out.’ Sometimes weather or conditions change, making further travel unsafe. In these cases, it’s best to simply turn around and end it early. Otherwise, you could end up dropping the wrong line, or possibly even coming out on the wrong side of the mountain. It’s best to err on the side of caution and know when to call it. You can always try again another day.
“Pack a few snacks in your pockets for those short stops. If you find a need to narrow the gap between yourself and those behind you or stop for a breather, have a few bites of jerky, or some almonds. Bit by bit, you will keep your body replenished with the sustenance it needs to continue pushing on, and you do so without unpacking your backpack.” — Mike Chait, Smugglers’ Notch Resort marketing director
— Bring chocolate — and tubular webbing | “One of the best things to keep in your first aid or emergency tool kit is, without a doubt, chocolate. We’re talking about a major morale booster here. Something else I find tremendously useful is a simple belt for my pants made of one-inch tubular webbing. Not only does it keep your pants up, but also comes in handy as a very strong strap to replace broken equipment. And the best part is the cost. Make one of your own in the bulk rope section of your favorite outdoor gear store for just a few bucks.” — Mike Chait
— Get involved | “Find a backcountry skiing mentor who can help facilitate your introduction into the sport. Something of a lost element in the digital world, touring mentors can impart critical on-mountain skills and knowledge that not only make your experience more streamlined and enjoyable, but safer, too.
In the offseason, consider volunteering a portion of your time for glade cutting and ski maintenance. Working the land with hands and tools is a great way to engage in the sport, support the backcountry community and meet like-minded friends, too.” — Tyler Ray, Granite Backcountry Alliance founder
— Be aware of conditions | “It’s always important to check the weather and snow conditions before you head out into the backcountry, and be observant as you begin your climb. Take note of how the snow handles your weight as you break trail — if it moves on steeper terrain, for instance. Look for signs of natural-occurring avalanches. Never be afraid to dig a pit, and know that turning around is always an option.
“ … I always pack a first-aid kit, an extra layer on top of the layers I think I’ll need, water, snacks, dry socks. Also, bring a little extra sunscreen and Chapstick; minor discomfort will get to you more than you think sometimes.” — Jamie Walter, Maine-based adventure photographer
— Bring repair gear | “I always carry a pole repair kit consisting of two pipe clamps and a rolled-up PBR can (yes, it needs to be PBR). I’ve never had to repair my own pole, but have extended ski days by keeping my partners going many times! Also, store your water upside down on a cold day. Water freezes from the top down, so if it starts to freeze, at least you can still drink.” — Aaron Rice, Vermont-based athlete
— Know your abilities and plan accordingly | “When I’m in avalanche terrain, I always bring a beacon, shovel and probe (check out Ortovox for some great equipment). I also think the best tool you can bring is knowledge about backcountry travel and an awareness of your own ability. An efficient backcountry traveler or an incredible skier can “get away” with a lot more in the backcountry than a novice can. Have hard talks with yourself and know where your abilities fall and how risk averse you should be.” — Aaron Rice
— Keep getting after it | “I’ve never been good at “training”; I just do the activities I love as much as possible. If you love skiing, wake up every morning at 5:30 to go skiing (that’s me!). If you love running, run at lunch every day (that is definitely not me). Figure out whatever it is you love and do it as much as you can!” — Aaron Rice