There is an element of skill and danger involved in the backcountry from which you are generally insulated in-bounds. If you're willing to put in the work the rewards are off the chart. And the money you spend on gear/education pays itself back in un-purchased lift tickets and gym memberships.
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You can stick your toe in the water without falling in completely. Hire a guide or find a safe, knowledgeable friend who has experience skiing in the backcountry. You can rent AT gear. You can also rent shovel/probe/tranceiver, as well. Be sure you use a small backpack that is light and maneuverable, preferably one with a strong enough compression strap system that you can pack your skis, if necessary.
Ultimately, it will require not only new skis, bindings and boots, but all of the following, some of which can be bought and some of which must be earned:
- avy beacon, probe, and shovel
- snow saw
- first aid kit
- avy lessons
- avy rescue know-how
- snowpack knowledge
- snowpit equipment
- weather knowledge
- months of reading and familiarization with avys
- probably a new clothing layering system
- winter camping equipment if you're thinking about extended trips
- climbing equipment if you're considering mountaineering
- climbing knowledge
- a trusted partner(s) that is proficient, knowledgeable, well prepared, and experienced with travel in the backcountry, particularly in the location where you are interested in exploring
Most everyone will recommend that you take a Level 1 avy class. You can find them through the forest service, local avalanche center, or local mountaineering shops. Beyond a certain base level of safety knowledge that can learned in a class setting, the best training is by going skiing. Also, learn to evaluate who you're skiing with and learn to think for yourself.
If you plan on backcountry skiing with any sort of frequency, buy the best beacon/probe/shovel you can afford. They're indespensible. You can't do without them and you'll want to practice with the beacon a good deal to become proficient enough to be a valuable partner.
Allen & Mike's Really Cool Backcountry Ski Book
Mountaineering - Freedom of the Hills
Glacier Travel and Crevasse Rescue by Andy Selters
Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain by Bruce Tremper
Backcountry Skiing: Skills for Ski touring and Ski Mountaineering, Volken, Scheell and Wheeler
AMC Backcountry Skiing Adventures Classic Ski and Snowboard Tours
For most easy light tours, don't worry too much about gear; your knowledge is more important than your gear. You also can rent a lot of gear and try it out first - for an example of a good outfitter check out www.whistlerskiguides.com.
AT boots may not be essential to get started but eventually you will find that Alpine boots won't cut it. A light alpine boot with walk mode and maybe cat-tracks will be fine more most purposes. A stiff AT boot is still going to be usually softer than soft Alpine boots, however they can be modified with stiffer tongues etc. Alpine boots are poorly designed for bootpacking and for fitting crampons. Not an issue for touring. Furthermore, Alpine boot liners are impossible to dry out overnight - even with the old trick of stuffing them in the sleeping bag. Most newer AT boots have liners that dry relatively quickly.
There are a variety of places where you can pick up basic mountaineering skills, depending on where you live. In Colorado, for example, the Colorado Mountain Club has the Basic Mountaineering School and High Altitude Mountaineering School for its members. Both will cover knots, anchor systems, climbing techniques, self-arrest, crevasse rescue, route selection, snow/glacier travel techniques, etc. There are also a variety of commercial options for learning this stuff. Exum Guides has ski mountaineering schools in the Tetons. Rainier Mountaineering has a six-day mountaineering seminar on Mt. Rainier, which is a good mountaineering introduction. They occasionally run a ski-specific mountineering seminar, too.
Straight Line Adventures
Gordy Peiffer's camp focuses on big-mountain skiing. They also spend time going over backcountry basics as well (i.e. practice beacon searches, avalanche theory, search tactics, etc.). Tyrone Shoelaces: "I took the camp a few years ago and thought it was money well spent for sure."
Jackson Hole has a back-country camp.
All Mountain Ski Pros in N. Tahoe has several different types of back-country camps