An interesting article posted by our friends over at Granite Chief about the in’s and out’s of backcountry skiing…why we do it and why people seem to be getting into more trouble these days. Check it out below:
The backcountry, an illustrious and mystical place harboring infinite adventures. Over the past five years, this once highly respected (and to some extent feared) aspect of skiing has been receiving exponentially more attention from the biggest names in the snow sport industry. What has caused this mass migration into the backcountry, and more importantly, what have been the consequences of this sudden influx of individuals?
The ski industry at its roots was designed as a service industry, an industry whose primary goal was to get skiers up the hill quickly and efficiently. In the past two decades there has been a movement away from these core ideals of skier transportation; instead billion dollar corporations are buying up our ski resorts and “renovating” them to cater to the rich upper class and the tourist. This alters the entire vibe of our beloved mountains, and the increase in tourism generated by the corporatization of our resorts results in overcrowded and under informed users. With the resorts we once called home transformed into mini Disneyland oriented ant hills, local skiers have begun a larger migration into the backcountry.
Paralleling this migration to the backcountry is the number of technological advances that have taken place in the past five years or so. Equipment is now lighter, more efficient, and overall cooler than ever. Bindings are as light (and lighter) than the old Fritschis, but now offer the same stability and response of alpine bindings. Marker’s introduction of the Duke and later the Tour opened the backcountry to a whole new generation of skiers. You no longer needed a dedicated backcountry setup; the Duke created a bridge between the frontside and the backside and made the best of both worlds. In addition, skis are now lighter, beacons are easier to use and more affordable, and the industry as a whole is investing more time and resources into research and development.
Mainstream media sells it:
Social Media outlets have served as a catalyst to the technological advances making it ever easier to venture out into the backcountry. We see it everywhere, from the movie premieres in the fall to TGR’s latest webisode: the world’s best athletes going bigger and bigger in more remote locations. The blissful nirvana of skiing untracked pow on a never before seen mountain creates a longing in us all to get out and experience the backcountry for ourselves.
What these media outlets fail to acknowledge is the huge support network they have access to, making their trips possible and more importantly safe. While watching Seth Morrison send enormous double fronflips in the middle of a spine-ridden face in Alaska may inspire us to try that 360 or backflip off a cliff when out touring, we must bear in mind the potential consequences of such actions. We are not in the resort, where ski patrol can quickly and easily come to our rescue.
While this pilgrimage into the backcountry is certainly a cool new trend in the ski industry, it doesn’t come without some consequence. The backcountry is not always a friendly and inviting place, and if you aren’t careful your day of touring can quickly turn into a multi day epic, or worse death. The hazards range from devastating avalanches to sudden weather shifts causing disorientation and losing your way, to injuries that make a few hours of touring turn to an overnight nightmare. With the backcountry so readily accessible via the new technologies and information on the web and the huge increase in the number of uneducated individuals heading out, it’s more important than ever to be smart, safe and informed out there.
How to prepare yourself:
Fear not! The backcountry can be a very peaceful and rewarding place for those willing to put in the time. First and foremost, you need to know what equipment you need for getting out there and how to properly use it. You absolutely must have a pack containing your shovel and probe. The beacon is another essential element, and it’s critical to remember it is to be worn around your body, not in a jacket pocket or in your pack (avalanche victims are often found stripped of their packs and even outer layers). In addition to these core items you should carry with you extra food and water, as well as an extra layer and a basic first aid kit in the event of unexpected delays due to weather or injury.
There a number of programs available to advance your knowledge about safe backcountry travel techniques as well as snow pack analysis. Getting you Avy Level 1 is highly recommended for a strong overview of backcountry techniques. There is also a plethora of information available online and in reference books.
The moral of the story is, don’t venture out until you’re in the know!