A Beginner’s Guide to Backcountry Touring

Breaking into backcountry touring is exciting, sometimes scary, and full of unknowns. You may have spent twenty years on the slopes, but gracefully making your way up a skintrack is not necessarily a natural skill. With the uptick of users on social media and the repetitive pow shots put up by pro-skiers and pro-recreationalists alike, it’s hard to not load up the van (or in my case the badass go-anywhere Prius), and do whatever it takes (including post-holing in high avy-danger territory) to get those “sick pow shots, brah.”

But please, show some restraint, and just don’t.

First things first: Get the Right Gear

There’s a lot that goes into backcountry travel, including the massive investment in the right gear. While you can use snowshoes for the ascent and your skinny skis from the 90s for the descent, the whole fat skis, tech bindings, alpine boots, and skins can run you a pretty penny. At full retail, the whole outfit can easily surpass the $2,000 mark. Add to that the beacon, probe, and shovel and you’re looking at the price of a smaller used car with relatively low mileage. Best advice on gear? Set yourself up with pro-deals or learn to religiously scour your local thrift stores, Craigslist, or Ebay.

Then Get Educated:

IMG_6811Once you’ve got your set-up I highly recommend attending a Know Before You Go class. I’m fortunate enough to live in Salt Lake where we have one of the best avalanche forecasting centers in the nation. The Utah Avalanche Center puts on classes and regularly partners with REI to provide brief, information packed sessions to educate backcountry users on the dangers of avalanche terrain. If you’re in a more remote location there are tons of resources online. BCA has an entire series on YouTube about backcountry terrain, companion rescue, and how to read and dig a snowpit.

If you’ve done all of the above, have toured some low-consequence areas and want to expand your knowledge, you can sign-up for an AIARE 1 course which is an introduction to safe snow travel, how to dig a pit and asses on a basic level, and how to identify terrain traps.

Do Your Research:

15275664_1726509364343445_188834417626578944_nThankfully we live in a time where information is a click away. Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming, Washington/Oregon, Canada, and Idaho all have avalanche forecasting centers that provide daily, and sometimes twice daily, avalanche condition updates. If you don’t live in one of these states, it’s important to keep track of storms and snowpack conditions. This might mean digging more snowpits than someone in the Wasatch, but if you treat it like a workout you’ll keep a better attitude and possibly save your life.

Find Good Company:

In Utah there are a handful of tours you can take on your own due to the low angle of the area’s slopes. But let’s be real. Touring is way more fun when you have someone to enjoy it with. Through social media and groups on Facebook I’ve found a solid group of people to tour with. So get out there, charge, and then get home safely.

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