There are plenty of opportunities for unforgettable winter experiences in the backcountry! That said, it’s important to know how to safely explore and be prepared for dangerous situations. We’re talking extreme weather conditions, avalanches, tree wells, or losing track of your route, among other safety hazards. Whether it’s your first time exploring the backcountry or you’re a seasoned backcountry explorer, it’s important to be prepared with backcountry safety skills and knowledge.
Read on for our safety tips to ensure you’re ready, not only for the beauty, but also for potential hazards in the backcountry.
Know before you go
Whether you’re out exploring on skis, snowboard, snowmobile, or snowshoes, getting outdoors during this time of year increases the risk of things going wrong, along with the consequences if they do. Which is why, before heading out, ensure you and your adventure buddies are prepared for the worse-case scenario.
Even if your mentality is “I’ll be safe,” or “Nothing bad will happen to me,” the reality is, without adequate backcountry knowledge, preparation, and gear, a nice day in the backcountry could easily transform into a life-or-death experience. Understanding the risks you can encounter will help you be prepared to manage them.
Follow the three Ts
Our friends at AdventureSmart have developed a three Ts plan to ensure you are prepared for the backcountry.
“If you’re planning on heading outdoors, every outdoor enthusiast should follow the 3 Ts; Trip Plan, Train and Take The Essentials. Though it’s beautiful during the winter, the backcountry is remote and can be unpredictable. Severe weather and avalanches are two of its primary hazards, so for any backcountry travel you – and everyone in your group – must be self-sufficient. If you’re travelling in avalanche terrain, ensure that you and your group also have proper avalanche training. AdventureSmart is a great resource to help you get informed before heading outdoors.” – AdventureSmart
Let’s dive a little deeper into these three safety tactics.
Just because your favorite backcountry spot is an easy venture in the summer doesn’t mean it’s going to be safe during the winter. It’s important to research your route ahead and leave a detailed plan behind so someone you know is aware of where you are planning to go.
Pro tip: Use AdventureSmart’s Trip Planning checklist before heading out.
- Plan your travel route
- Know the terrain and conditions
- Check the weather
- Always fill out a trip plan
Take backcountry education and training
There are many types of education opportunities available to winter-sport enthusiasts — from basic avalanche awareness training to professional-level certifications. No matter your backcountry sport of choice (skis, snowmobiles, etc.), you can find a course based on your activity and skill level. BC AdventureSmart offers weekly outdoor safety webinars, join one (or more) to learn about the 3 Ts, communications, decision making and what to do in an emergency. All BC AdventureSmart events are listed on their Facebook events page.
Learn more about backcountry safety training from Yervana Local, FX Gagnon and outdoor safety, personal preparedness, and what to do in an emergency at BC AdventureSmart.
Avalanche Skills Training
If you’re going to be adventuring into areas with even a remote chance of an avalanche taking place, you should prepare yourself by taking the Avalanche Skills Training (AST 1) course. The course takes only 2 days but could save the life of you or your friends – well worth it we’d say!
During this 2-day course you’ll learn how to monitor snow conditions and layers in the snowpack over time, identify which zones are relatively safe to explore, which ones require some extra precaution and planning, and which ones are a no go. As well as this, you’ll get hands-on training and practice using your avalanche safety gear (probe, shovel and transceiver).
With your new found skills, you’ll have the knowledge needed to read and understand avalanche forecasts, helping you to make informed decisions while planning your next outing. Remember to keep track of conditions using the Avalanche Canada forecast before each trip.
Take the essentials every time you head outdoors
Even if you’re planning to just spend a couple hours in the backcountry in an area you have explored before, make it a habit to always carry the essentials and know how to use them:
- Fire making kit
- Signalling device (i.e. whistle)
- Extra food and water
- Extra clothing
- Navigational/communication devices
- First aid kit
- Emergency blanket/shelter
- Pocket knife
- Sun protection
Add other equipment specific to your chosen activity, season and location.
Head out with someone who is experienced
While more people are starting to tour the backcountry, heading out into the backcountry with an ACMG certified guide can help you explore more and safely enjoy the backcountry.
Make the most out of your winter backcountry adventures with a Yervana Local. Whether you want to go ski touring or splitboarding, find avalanche skills training courses, or go snowshoeing, find an experienced and certified local in your area. Their knowledge and expertise will make your backcountry dreams a reality!
Happy and Safe Exploring
The backcountry is a wild place filled with untapped adventure and equal opportunity for emergencies. Proper preparation will give you the smarts, the gear, and the right attitude to explore the backcountry. We hope these safety tips help to empower you to enjoy the beauty of the mountains safely.
Thank you to our friends at BC AdventureSmart for their outdoor education and resources. To learn more about safe outdoor activities, personal preparedness and how to reduce the number and severity of search and rescue incidents, visit AdventureSmart.ca. Follow @BCAdvSmart on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.