Ever been at the ski resort and watched as people in the parking lot geared up for a day in the backcountry? I remember my first time seeing a splitboard set-up and I honestly had no idea what I was looking at. There were, and are, so many things that you need but that wasn't even the biggest question I had... where were they going?
Backcountry skiing has been gaining popularity but in the last three years we've seen the industry experience a major growth spurt. All this new interest comes with a whole lot of questions and we will try to help get you pointed in the right direction!
So the first thing we have to talk about is Gear. If you already snowboard you likely have some of the items, such as: boots, goggles, jackets, pants, helmet, hat, etc. But there's all this stuff that you probably wouldn't have and I'v outlined it below:
- Splitboard, Bindings, and Skins
- Combined these three things make up your mode of travel. While you can go through the rigamarole of splitting your own snowboard, we highly, I repeat HIGHLY, recommend buying a board that comes as a splitboard. The technology behind these pre-made splitboards has gotten to the point where they feel the same as ridding a solid board but have been built for specific backcountry conditions.
- Buy bindings that work with the boots you already have!
- Most companies selling splitboards are now selling "pre-cut" skins that go with the board, we recommend these to get the perfect fit.
- These three pieces of gear plus: education, educated partners, and a first-aid kit, make up your Safety Kit.
- The Beacon, is used every time you go into the backcountry and is turned on "send" or "transmit" when you put it on, and remains in that state unless there is an accident or you're back at the cars. This piece of gear helps us not only be found if there is an avalanche accident, but also find our partners.
- The Probe, has multiple uses but will help identify where exactly someone is buried in an avalanche.
- The Shovel, also has multiple uses but is mainly used for snow removal once the person in the avalanche incident is found.
Avalanche Safety Training: Before venturing into the backcountry, it's crucial to have the necessary avalanche safety training. Enroll in an avalanche safety course to learn about terrain evaluation, route finding, snow stability assessment, and rescue techniques. Understanding avalanche risks and mitigation is essential for your safety and the safety of others.
- Join us on one of our AIARE 1 Avalanche training courses found her
- There are backcountry skiing specific backpacks, and these are the ones we recommend, the reason being that they have specific pockets for your shovel and probe. This extra compartment keeps your Safety Kit separate from the rest of your layers, snacks, and water; making it easy to access and ready to use.
- Poles of any kind will work, but collapsable poles make it so that you can store your poles for the ride down, preserving the pristine experience of riding without anything in your hands.
- An essential piece of equipment to keep in your pack. It's something that you never want to to use but always want to have if something breaks while you're in the backcountry. We like this repair kit as a start and then recommend tailoring it to your specific set-up.
- Backcountry skiing layering can be different than what you would wear while riding lifts. I find that I end up changing layers more often in the backcountry, since you get hot when your moving and cold when you stop!
- Again, I usually have one pair of gloves when I ride in resort, in the backcountry I carry 3-4. A light pair to protect my hands but keep me cool, a mid-weight pair (that i'll spend most of may day in), an extra mid-weight pair incase the first one gets wet, and a heavy weight pair in case you get cold or need to stay outside longer.
Okay, so now that we got gear out of the way. We can talk about the bigger questions like: where to go and who to go with?
The question of where to go can't be answered simply, it's a complex, ever changing answer that even the professionals haven't mastered yet. This is because this question hinges on answering these preliminary questions: what's the weather forecast, what's the avalanche forecast, who are you with, and what kind of terrain is accessible for the day.
Finding partners can be another crux of getting into the backcountry. Go with people who have experience and you trust or better yet, take an Avalanche course. During one of these courses you can meet other like-minded people, who at the end of it, will all be speaking the same language and are excellent first-partner options.