Backcountry Skiing Basics

Backcountry skiing basics; It’s a cold sunny February day sitting on the Supreme Lift of Alta.  I look across the canyons and see people skiing knee-high powder from a storm 2 days prior… I wish I could be skiing in Grizzly Gulch, but I don’t even know where to get started on the Backcountry skiing basics.   Flash forward 11 years, and I look back and think of what I did to ski beyond the rope into the backcountry.

The first thing you need to go backcountry skiing is strong skiing skills.   If you’re not able to ski black diamond terrain in any condition at your local ski area, you’re not ready to go backcountry skiing.  When out in the backcountry there are no groomers to get to.  If the slope you’re on is icy and there are trees, well, the slope is icy and there are trees on it.

You need basic avalanche knowledge.
Backcountry Skiing Basics

I recommend you buy and read the book Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain.

Avalanche equipment

(borrow from someone you know. I have an extra set, I will loan it to you if you’re skiing with me.  I have to be found too.  However, without basic avalanche knowledge, the avalanche equipment is useless)

Shovel – Make sure it’s lightweight yet sturdy.  Avalanche Shovel Review
Beacon – I recommend Backcountry Access Tracker2 Avalanche Beacon One Size.  The BCA Tracker is the standard in avalanche beacons, they’re an American company, and I’ve had excellent customer service by fixing a broken knob on a 4yr old beacon for free.  (for $35 more there is a new BCA Tracker3)
Probe – I use the Black Diamond Quickdraw Probe Tour, Fire Red, 280cm.
(About $420 investment)

Backcountry Ski Equipment

I will always recommend getting the lightest gear to suit your need. I don’t have light gear, and that was a purchasing mistake.  I recommend light gear because backcountry skiing is mostly spent going uphill. I use Black Diamond skis, fritschi freeride bindings and Garmont Mega Ride boots.

(About $2,000 investment)
Skis – good selection of lightweight backcountry-specific boards.  $700ish
Bindings – there are lightweight, pin binding (dynafit) and standard step (fritschi) binding.  They are expensive, about $600.

AT Boots – Many Alpine touring-specific boots are available.   They all include rubber-lugged soles.  The main difference in the types are 3 buckle and 4 buckle.   4 buckles are sturdier but the 3 buckle are lighter.  (your choice)  $600-$1,000
Skins – Are like carpets you attach to the bottom of your skis that allow you to climb up without slipping.  I use Black Diamond ascension skins, they are great.  about $150

Finally, you need a passion for being in the wilderness.   Sometimes the skiing sucks but the wilderness is amazing.  An appreciation for the wilderness will make the hard work you spent climbing up a mountain to ski snaggle-fest of gamble oak worth it.  Now,  if you do love the wilderness and skiing, you shouldn’t hesitate.  Get the Backcountry Skiing Basics and get out there.  Remember to pack a camera, and share your adventurous life.