Backcountry skiing is an experience unlike any other. Whether you’re drawn to the gorgeous scenery or the exhilarating feeling that comes with skiing on the unmarked parts of the mountain, your first backcountry ski trip will be an unforgettable occasion.
Keep the following tips in mind to help ensure your first adventure will be memorable and worry-free:
1. Pack The Right Gear
Backcountry skiing is different from traditional alpine skiing because you have a great deal of hiking to do before you hit the slopes. So, you’ll need to pack gear that can accommodate both skiing as well as backpacking. First, you’ll need to start with the basics:
● Skis: the obvious reason you’re making the trek through the mountains!
● Poles: You’ll want to be sure you have the right kind of poles for backcountry skiing; they’ll need to be adjustable so you can control them while hiking on a steep slope.
● Goggles: Make sure you keep your goggles in a dry place, such as the goggle pocket in your coat, while hiking to avoid fogging them up. Once you’re ready to ski down the slopes, pull them out and put them on.
● Helmet: Safety first! Since you’re skiing down the unmarked part of the mountains, it’s especially important to protect yourself in case of an accident.
● Gloves: Make sure you find a pair of good waterproof gloves (or two).
● Coat and vest: You’ll likely work up quite a sweat while hiking, so you won’t need your puffy coat right away, but keep it accessible for when you’re ready to ski.
● Navigation tools: The last thing you want to do is get lost. Bring a map, compass, and a GPS device.
● Sun protection: Even though it’s cold, the sun is quite reflective off the snow. Make sure you have sunscreen, sunglasses and lip balm while backcountry skiing.
● Heat and light sources: Stock up on hand warmers, matches and a headlamp before hitting the slopes.
● Repair kit: You’ll be glad to have a ski repair kit on hand when you get ready to make your way back down the mountain.
● First aid kit: Better safe than sorry! Keep a small first aid kit with you for bandages, tape and antiseptic.
● Emergency shelter: A tarp or single-person tent will do.
● Food and water: Make sure you have plenty of power bars and water on hand. If you can, store them in a place they won’t freeze!
Do some research on your particular ski site to know exactly what items you’ll need to bring, as well as any other items you’d like to take with you. For instance, you can also bring personal care items like toilet paper and a fast drying towel, or you could bring other helpful accessories like a waterproof pad to sit on along the way.
2. Stay Energized
Similar to backpacking, backcountry skiing requires a lot of energy. Make sure you are snacking along the way to ensure you have plenty of calories and protein in your system. Power bars are great, as well as trail mix and easy-to-eat dry foods. When you’re hiking in the cold, it’s easy to overlook signs of dehydration, so drink plenty of water as well.
If you’re staying overnight in a hut or a yurt along the way, make sure you pack a single burner camp stove or other heat source for cooking. As awesome as energy bars are, a hot meal can go a long way when you’re in the backcountry. You can get creative with your meals as well, like storing pre-cracked eggs in a water bottle or thermos to avoid a mess while still getting a light, protein-rich breakfast in the morning.
3. Make Your Gear Work For You
In the backcountry, you’ll likely encounter steep slopes and loose, undisturbed snow. It’s important that you make your gear work for you. Adjust your poles to different heights to accommodate your needs. The pole on the higher end of the slope may need to be much shorter than the other, but it’s better to adjust than to exert more energy trying to make them work at the same height.
Similarly, try waxing both sides of your skis to help keep excess snow off the top. You’ll save a lot of strength in the long run. A little extra preparation will go a long way when you’re backcountry skiing.
4. Research your Route
If it’s your first time hitting the backcountry, you’ll want to make sure you have done your research well beforehand. Make sure your partner or group has become familiar with the trail you’ll be hiking, as well as the route you’ll be skiing.
Talk to the lodge staff as well, just to make sure there aren’t any surprises or dangerous spots to avoid.
5. Prepare For Any Situation
Finally, be prepared for any situation while you’re on the mountain. Have an emergency plan in case you need to call for a rescue team. Pack as if you’ll need to stay overnight. Even if you are just planning for a single-day adventure, bring extra food, clothing and heat sources to be safe.
Being prepared for your backcountry ski trip could be as simple as throwing a few extra items in your pack or splurging on a few upgrades in your gear. While you’re planning your first trip, read blogs, articles and skiing community forums to get the best advice on how to have a safe and successful skiing experience.