This is the Unofficial Essential Backcountry Checklist for skiers and riders. This checklist makes a perfect bookmark for beginners and experts alike as it highlights the most essential points every backcountry rider should know. Backcountry Basics III | The Essential Checklist | Unofficial Networks

Backcountry Basics III | The Essential Checklist

Backcountry Basics III | The Essential Checklist


Backcountry Basics III | The Essential Checklist


Lake Tahoe Backcountry

Here is the Unofficial  essential backcountry checklist for skiers and riders. This checklist will make a good bookmark for beginners and experts alike and can be used in conjunction with the first two Backcountry Basics pieces linked here and here. Other useful terms are linked throughout the article. 

  1. Acquire basic backcountry gear. The three mandatory staple pieces are: shovel, beacon, and probe. Try your local gear shop in town or give a look to quality online retailers live Evo.
  2. Education. You must learn how to use your equipment properly and practice regularly so using your equipment takes little “thought” and becomes more of a reaction in the field. There’s a few ways to check this one off the list and all of them are compatible and reinforced with one another. Read avalanche safety books like Snow Sense. Hire a guide to teach you. Take Avi 1 and think about Avi 2. Ski and ride with knowledgeable partners. Watch how your guide, partners, teachers move, make decisions and use their gear. Ask questions. Take notes. Learn how to carry out a rescue and properly extract a buried victim from a slide. Practice the skills of probing, digging and searching correctly often. Practice with friends and backcountry partners and resharpen your developed skills each season.The more you reinforce your education the clearer each part of this checklist becomes.
  3. Develop a routine. Make personal observations each day you go out. Your routine should include monitoring local weather and reading your local avi forecast each day. Learn how changes in weather, especially warming trends, precipitation and wind events, alter characteristics of the snowpack. Absorb the knowledge you learned in avi books, with a guide, or in avi classes and apply it. For example, is there blowing snow at the trailhead? Obvious signs of wind loading? Whumpfing? Etc. How will these “red flags” change your plan for the day?

    "Sluff" Courtesy of

  4. Understand current instability issues in your area and the difference between different types of snow instabilities. Learn how to avoid these avalanche issues when they are present. Understand your own snowpack and the differences in others. If sluff (loose snow avalanche) or wet slides (warming snowpack) are of major concern learn how to mitigate those hazards properly. Both can be negotiated safely while skiing, but can also cause massive damage and/or death. Slab avalanches are commonly the most destructive type of avalanche that also cause the majority of avalanche fatalities. If a slab release is your major concern think about your backup route (safe route) as your new primary descent option.
  5. Identify what other pieces of gear you might want to include in your backcountry quiver beyond the three staples. Three common pieces are an air bag, avalung, and a helmet. However, items that create a first aid and/or repair kit as well as a snow science kit may be desired as well. Air bags will help you from getting buried and may reduce your risk of trauma in an avalanche event. Avalung’s, when used properly, help you breathe longer while buried in a slide. Consider buying and using a helmet. Trauma is a major cause of avalanche fatalities and a helmet increases your chances of surviving impact to the head.
  6. Take a safe route up. Ride a safe way down.Route selection is essential in having a fun, safe day out on the backcountry. Learn how to read terrain on the up and down, and plan your ascent/descent with “islands of safety” where appropriate. Understand why it might be safer in certain scenarios to ski or skin a section one at a time with “eyes on”.

    "Slab Avalanche" Courtesy of

  7. Learn how to dig a pit, analyze the snowpack, and perform snow stability tests like an ECT (extended column test) and a compression test. Take the time to accurately view layers of the snowpack and identify any weak layers and the likelihood of a skier and/or natural triggered event.
  8. Understand slope angle and aspect and how they both influence snow stability. Understand the 30-45 degree pop zone, sweet spots and convexity in slope. Learn to read these things as you accumulate lived experience in the mountains. Slope meters are made to measure the degree of the slope you’re traveling. They can help you determine the steepness of a slope and will help you accrue first hand experience in slope angle as you make measurements over time.

    "Wet Slide" Courtesy of

  9. Visualize how to deal with a slide you’re in. You will read and talk about this in your learning process, but it will never be the same if and when it actually happens in the field. If you ever get caught in an avalanche try to crawl your way to the surface of the slide. Try to slow yourself down. Swim as hard as you possibly can, if you can tell which way is upstream, to allow moving debris to go past you as you attempt to move to the rear of the avalanche. As the slide debris starts to settle either get the avalung in your mouth if you have one or make an air pocket around your mouth with your hands as big as you can. Relax and breathe slow, your partners should be digging you out shortly, that is unless you already deployed your Airbag. DNFO (Do Not Freak Out)! This also applies to the searching party. You simply can’t. You need to remain calm and collective, focus, and act out your practice scenario for being buried and rescuing a victim.
  10. There is always another day. Absolutely positively never be afraid to turn around. If your gut and/or observations tell you something is wrong/off listen. It may sting a bit, but there’s a reason you’re second guessing your objective of the moment and it’s is always better to learn from an instance like that in the mountains than to test it. The mountain doesn’t care that you want to ski such and such soooo bad. You have to ask yourself if one glorious run is worth putting not only yourself but others in danger. Making smart, safe decisions is one of the cruxes to backcountry snow sliding. Figuring out when the time is right to push yourself and team and/or back off is one of the paramount techniques of the trade.

    Lake Tahoe Backcountry

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