Backcountry 101

Fresh powder is something we all love to look for!  And where you find the freshest powder is away from the groomers, in backcountry.  But, before you start heading in to uncharted terrain, we put together a guide to assist you in the backcountry. 

Avalanches: Are caused by variable weather, unstable snowpack, and steep terrain, backcountry avalanches claim an average of 25 lives a year in the United States. Your first safety step: Brush up on the basics below. Next, take a course accredited by the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education

Equipment to Pack

Avalanche beacon: This GPS-size transceiver sends a signal that other transceivers can detect. If a skier/rider is buried by a slide, his companions switch their beacons to “receive” and zero in on the victim. Wear the beacon near your body (beneath insulating layers). Need to brush up on your skills? Many ski areas have hide-and-seek-style parks where you can practice homing in on the signal.

Shovel: Use a metal-edged shovel. An aluminum shovel is a top pick because it is both sturdy and lightweight.  Find one  with an extendable shaft (go long for leverage, short for tight spaces.)

Telescoping probe: Poke these 80- to 128-inch-long poles into debris to pinpoint an avalanche victim. One cubic meter of snow can weigh more than 880 pounds, so the more precisely you can locate a victim, the better.

Inclinometer: Most people misjudge angles, but a precise slope estimate may indicate increased (or decreased) avalanche risk. Measure steepness by aligning this compass-like tool with the hillside.

Tips from the Pros

Communicate: Each group member will notice, and call attention to different risks.

Make small groups: Cap crews at five, and split big groups according to skill level and goals.

Be flexible: Have several alternate route plans to avoid taking single- minded risks.

Stay consistent: Hold a sustainable effort, but snack often and break for at least 10 minutes every hour. Strong skiers may climb 1,000 feet per hour and ski up to 2.5 mph across flats.

Swap layers: Add warmth when resting and shed layers to climb.

Ultimately, always, always, ALWAYS, practice SAFETY FIRST!!