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Backcountry Skiing 101

Backcountry Skiing 101

By Harrison Cabel

In the mountains one finds out more about a stranger in a single day than in the city during months or years, and a friendship originating in the mountains is not so easy to dissolve.

Conrad Kain

An Intro to Backcountry Skiing

I loved backcountry skiing before I had ever tried it. I don’t think there’s anything more aesthetically pleasing than watching a perfect powder turn on skis.

Growing up, I watched a ton of ski videos. They stayed in my mind, and two years ago I decided to commit to skiing fully. I had to be patient and wait for my ability to catch-up with my love for the sport. But getting out into the big-wild was what I needed, and that was exactly what I was going to do.

After practicing and practicing, trip after trip, I narrowed down the top backcountry skiing tips I needed to follow. From convincing myself to get up and go, to safety, to gear, these are a few of my backcountry skiing tips!

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All time day. #mounthector

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Tip 1: Be Safe

Two words. Be safe. Sounds like a simple concept, but there is a tonne that goes into this. And without accumulating all the factors, I wouldn’t be able to get into the big-wild I love so much.

  • Work on your skiing ability.

    • Your first day on skis should never be your first day in the backcountry. Practice at your local hill/mountain, and get comfortable. Be patient with yourself!
  • Take your avalanche safety courses.

    • This is a must! The backcountry is unpredictable- the big-wild for a reason. Learn the ins and outs from a certified ACMG guide. And practice what they teach so it becomes second nature for you. Teaching yourself a sport associated with high risks is difficult. But finding knowledgeable guides and courses to learn from can make the process easier!
  • Figure out which friends have already been touring, and link up with them.

    • One of my favourite quotes comes from a Austrian mountaineer, Conrad Kain: “In the mountains one finds out more about a stranger in a single day than in the city during months or years, and a friendship originating in the mountains is not so easy to dissolve.” Some of my best moments have been in the backcountry, with my friends. And, an extra perk: the more knowledgeable and educated individuals you adventure with, the more you will increase your safety and ability to assess and manage risks!

Yervana Insight:

If you’re located in Vancouver area, you can get your Avalanche Safety Training through our awesome Local, FX. He is an instructor who brings personality and knowledge to all of his excursions. Sign up for his Adventure today! If you aren’t in Vancouver, check out Avalanche Canada for certified courses and providers.


Tip 2: Gear Up

Make sure you have your essential gear- your safety equipment! Your avalanche safety kit is necessary in the backcountry (no exceptions). You will also need to carry your medical and survival kit. On top of those crucial items, I also bring a few other things:

  • Layers

    • I never compromise on this. Layering your clothing properly can make or break your experience.
  • Backpack

    • Make sure it’s well-fitted to you and the gear you need to pack. A sore back from a pack can make your trip a lot harder than it needs to be. Consider finding a new pack through MEC!
  • Gloves

    • For me, there’s a system to this. I bring a light pair of skinning gloves, and a warm pair of water resistant gloves for both standing around and skiing. If you like wearing mittens, a good pair of leather mitts in the backcountry can warm up your frozen fingers better than anything!
  • Camera

    • Phones don’t do it for me anymore. Remember the perfect powder turn I mentioned? Capturing those turns on a great camera is an awesome keepsake. If photography was ever a point of interest for you, know that backcountry skiing holds ample opportunity for stellar photos.

Yervana Insight:

MEC has an awesome ski-touring checklist we source when we’re thinking of heading to the backcountry to chase the pow’. Read more here!


Tip 3: Get Out of Bed

Now, I’m not talking about a regular work day. I’m talking about that extremely early alpine start. When the sun is still sleeping, the mountain is quiet, and the air is whispering for us to keep resting. We’ve decided where we want to go in the day, and getting up extremely early is part of how we get there.

  • Remember the fresh air will jumpstart your energy. There’s nothing like a deep breath of cold, crisp, clean air to wake a tired body up.
  • Find another person, or a group of people, who are passionate and pushing to get out there. They’ll help you find your drive to get moving too!
  • Keep your objectives in mind. Why do you do this? The payoff of a day riding the backcountry slopes and powder is incomparable to anything else. That’s why we get up so early every time without complaint. It’s all worth it.

If there’s one thing to keep in mind before you start your pursuit of backcountry skiing, it’s safety. Period.

Taking the right courses, practicing, talking with knowledgeable skiers, discussing conditions and routes with your party (and other parties you meet), all help to create a more educated community of backcountry enthusiasts.

Whatever trail or adventure you are pursuing, planning is important! You can do this easily through the Adventure Smart Trip App. This app helps you answer your who, what, where, when, and why, and makes it easy for you to send to your family and friends.


Harrison is a nursing student in Edmonton, Alberta. He spends all of his spare time in the mountains around Canmore, Banff, and Lake Louise. Backcountry skiing in the winter, and climbing and mountain biking in the summer. He is always on the hunt for bigger adventures- which usually equates to bigger mountains. Follow his adventures on Instagram!

Let us help you start!

Book an adventure with us:

VANCOUVER

Intro to Backcountry Skiing and Managing Avalanche Terrain

A focused, field-based course designed to both expand on the terrain management taught in the AST 1 course and develop more advanced winter backcountry travel skills. This course is for you if you have your AST 1 and if you have travel through the backcountry often.

BANFF

Avalanche Skills Training Level 1

Alpine Air Adventures in partnership with Avalanche Canada delivers AST training curriculum designed to enable people to travel in the back country safely, understanding where to obtain current information and understanding the onsite snow pack dynamics and terrain use.

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