New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

A question for the Backcountry vets.

post #1 of 23
Thread Starter 
How did you get into backcountry skiing?

I live in an amazing area for backcountry recreation, but I've had few opprotunities to take advantage of it. I hike camp and backpack every chance I get, but I find it a lot harder to get out there in the winter.

The main reason for the difficulty is that I know few people with similar interests, and those that I do find are pros. They seem to welcome my interest and ambition but the trips they go on are way out of my league.

did you guys jump right in, ease yourself in or just grow up doing it?

Outfitting myself will be expensive, and the avalanche and route finding courses I plan on attending will add to the cost. But I think it will be worth it. Ski resorts just don't do it for me anymore.
post #2 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by Liquidnails
How did you get into backcountry skiing?

I live in an amazing area for backcountry recreation, but I've had few opprotunities to take advantage of it. I hike camp and backpack every chance I get, but I find it a lot harder to get out there in the winter.

The main reason for the difficulty is that I know few people with similar interests, and those that I do find are pros. They seem to welcome my interest and ambition but the trips they go on are way out of my league.

did you guys jump right in, ease yourself in or just grow up doing it?

Outfitting myself will be expensive, and the avalanche and route finding courses I plan on attending will add to the cost. But I think it will be worth it. Ski resorts just don't do it for me anymore.
I just eased into it over the years, first by doing laps with alpine equipment on mountain passes that can be skied with a car shuttle...places like Loveland Pass in Colorado and Galena Summit in Idaho. Then, I got into lift-served backcountry, going out of bounds and then back in again either at the base of the lifts or somewhere down the road. I guess I had the luck of the foolish or just was living right because I never got into a dicey snow-safety situation.

I eventually got some cheap first-generation telemark equipment and thrashed around in the woods, taking short tree runs, for example, between switchbacks on forest service roads that were used mainly by non-telemarking cross-country skiers. This was low-angle, minimal risk stuff...barely one step above the old kick and glide in terms of risk.

Next I took a couple of avalanche awareness classes, bought a used transceiver, a shovel, some skins, etc. and kept my ear to the ground, so to speak, to get info about the easier backcountry tours in the area where I was living at the time. You may meet others in an avalanche awareness class who are also looking to break into the sport. You may get some leads on scheduled outings or touring clubs. Your local winter-outdoor-recreation store probably is as good a source as any for information. I remember people posting "skiing partner wanted" notices on the bulletin board at the Salt Lake City REI when I lived there, so that's another possibility.

After my ski-between-the-switchbacks phase, I just sort of followed the crowd to the most popular touring places. I kept up to date on the avalanche reports and would only go if it hadn't snowed in at least two days, if I saw several cars in the parking lot and, better yet, if I saw some skiers putting skins on in the parking lot. It was a risk, yes, since the presence of other people doesn't imply safe skiing conditions, but it was a calculated risk. Then again, it's always a calculated risk, even if you're skiing with other people who have been out every day and have an intimate knowledge of that season's snowpack history.

One possibility is to locate the access points to ski-in yurts or huts in your neck of the B.C. backcountry. If you see other skiers at the trailhead, ask if you hang with them for a run or two. They may say yes, they may say no. They may tell you about other places to ski.

When I started to go into the backcountry with one or two other people instead of just taking my chances and showing up at a trailhead alone, I would typically ski one run to their two just because I wasn't as fit as my skiing partners. But it worked out great just the same. We were just skiing laps, and we all ended up in the same place at the end of the run, so I just did fewer laps. If your buds are just going out for a few laps instead of some epic Kaslo-to-Nelson-in-24 hours cross-country marathon, and they ask you along, you should go with.

Also, spring is a nice time to take solo trips. Once the snowpack has stabilized into an end-of-season freeze-corn-slop cycle, you can ski chutes and steeps that would usually be too dangerous in midwinter. However, as you no doubt will find out or may already know, wet-snow avalanches (http://www.offpistemag.com/themag/avy/vol2/spring.html) are also part of the spring-skiing package.

It's a chicken and egg thing, but the more you get out, the more information you get, and the higher your chances are meeting up with others who are at the same ability and enthusiasm level.
post #3 of 23
Definitely try to get educated as much as possible first before you go out. Buy some avalanche safter books and read them cover to cover. Then do it again. Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrrain by Bruce Tremper is an excellent book, with easy to understand chapters. Then get yourself into an avy class. This should really tie together what you read in the book. Spend the money on the safety gear for sure. Get the beacon, probe, shovel, and pack to carry your gear in. Hopefully, in the class you'll meet some like minded people to partner up with. If not slum around internet boards. Ttips, TGR, even Splitboard.com can provide you with BC partners. If you live near a popular area, it's usually easy to just show up and ask around. Most people in the BC are willing to pick up a partner. Even newbies. I would rather take someone under my wing than to be involved in a Search and body recovery later. The one advantage I have found with just showing up is that if you aren't really comfortable with the people you partner up with, you can just not go out with them again. Of course that still means you have to roll the dice with them a bit. Still, I have met several of my most trusted bc partners by just showing up at the pass.
post #4 of 23
I just got into skiing the bc this spring. I had wanted to do it for a while, but when my favorite ski areas in Tahoe closed early this year (with 10' of snow still on the ground), that was all the motivation I needed.

Since I didn't know anyone at the time who would even consider earning some turns, I just started going out solo. I had such a great time that it completely changed my outlook on skiing. It makes skiing at a resort seem like going on a cheesy amusement park ride. I'd highly recommend that you just get out there and try it, even if you just hike stuff w/ alpine gear to get started.

Of course, I did educate myself about the various hazards (Tremper's book is a good read), however I think that a lot of people try to play up the dangers, to make the sport seem more "extreme". As long as you are aware of the risks, and are fairly conservative about exposing yourself to them, I don't think bc skiing is much more dangerous than a lot of other sports.

Just get out and do it -- it's fun!
post #5 of 23
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the encouragement. I know I'm going to clock a few days out there this season. I'll look into that book for sure, and I think I'll slowly build up my collection of gear.

what do you guys think of those inserts for alpine bindings that make them tourable?
post #6 of 23
Quote:
however I think that a lot of people try to play up the dangers, to make the sport seem more "extreme".
Not so much "extreme" it up as understand the difference between a coastal snowpack in the spring and a continental snowpack in Feb.
For sure, Tahoes coastal snowpack will be reasonably safe in the spring, whereas the continental snowpacks in the Canadian Rockies or Colorado in mid winter require that you know your stuff if you're going to venture beyond low angle trees with no exposure.
Interior BC, Ab Rockies also put you in a position where the remoteness is going to be a larger factor than areas around Tahoe, Vail Pass, Loveland that get tons of b/c activity.
Read some books, take your RAC course and try and find a somewhat experienced partner to teach some of the basics of route selection and safe decision making. Trekkers will work for short lift served ob runs, but they're kind of heavy and awkward for long skins. Not a bad option for getting out there, though. Where are you at, Liquidnails?
post #7 of 23
Thread Starter 
I'm in the kamloops okanagan area.

The main backcountry around here would be the clearwater/wells grey area and crowfoot in the shuswaps.

I grew up farther north quite close to the cariboo mountains. I'd love to try that area as well.
post #8 of 23
Liquidnails:

I'll just add a couple of things to the excellent advice that's already been given.

You mention that you like to hike and backpack. There's honestly almost no better way to familiarize yourself with terrain than to walk around on it during the off-season. Don't take established trails all the time, get out and just hike around.

Keep on the lookout for open slopes and avalanche gullies. Learn where skinning up a ridgeline might help keep you in safer trees instead of out in exposed open areas.

Look for the signs of avalanche activity; things like large areas of small trees that all seem to be the same size, or trees with all the uphill branches stripped off, or trees/bushes that are bent downhill well above ground level. All of these are indicators that avalanches have occurred in your area.

Get a Life-Link inclinometer and start measuring slope angles in the summer. If you learn the angles in the summer, you'll have a far better idea where to skin and ski in the winter without having to find out the hard way.

Look particularly hard for open glades among heavier stands of forest. Those - if you can find them - are the money spots. They often mean places you can ski down in relative safety. You can skin up through the forest and ski back down in the glades.

The more time you spend in your favorite haunts during the off-season, the better prepared you'll be to make safe decisions when the snow comes.

Good luck and have fun.
post #9 of 23
Thread Starter 
Great advice, bob.

Coincidentally I've made plans to go for a hike next weekend. A hike though an area I'd love to ski. Here's a map of it.

http://www.imagehouse.com/guidemaps/pdf/teapot1.pdf

looks prety inviting doesn't it.
post #10 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by Liquidnails
Great advice, bob.

Coincidentally I've made plans to go for a hike next weekend. A hike though an area I'd love to ski. Here's a map of it.

http://www.imagehouse.com/guidemaps/pdf/teapot1.pdf

looks prety inviting doesn't it.
Sure does.

Have a great time. It doesn't hurt to take pictures as well. If find that my aging brain doesn't necessarily remember things as well as I might like.
post #11 of 23
Education can not be overstressed, since your life and those you are with are literally dependant on it. The best thing you could do is find some experienced people to go out with who can show you the ropes, and you should not go into any potentially dangerous terrain with just one other person. Three really is the minimum for safe backcountry travel. It is OK to just go part way up the slope or ski an easier line, as long as everyone agrees that it it safe. Take it slow and learn as you go. All the mountians are skiable, not just the ones with lifts on them.
post #12 of 23
Great advice here.

I'll add that the biggest obstacle I face in the bc is my own ego. You'll see some pretty tasty terrain. You'll be so focused on the joy of higher angle terrain that you'll gloss over the safety aspect. I know you're saying to yourself as you read this that you won't put safety in the back seat. Trust me, you will.

If you remember that, then you'll have a better chance of putting safety back up front next to you, the driver. Never let a group leader off the hook of being questioned about their decisions. I'd rather be a pain in the ass than tomorrow's headline.
post #13 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by Seven
Great advice here.

I'll add that the biggest obstacle I face in the bc is my own ego. You'll see some pretty tasty terrain. You'll be so focused on the joy of higher angle terrain that you'll gloss over the safety aspect. I know you're saying to yourself as you read this that you won't put safety in the back seat. Trust me, you will.

If you remember that, then you'll have a better chance of putting safety back up front next to you, the driver. Never let a group leader off the hook of being questioned about their decisions. I'd rather be a pain in the ass than tomorrow's headline.
This man knows what he's talking about. Ego is one of the the biggest things to worry about in the bc imo

The Tremper book is one of the best books out there - bar none.

As you're in Kamloops/OK don't forget that you have access to tremendous skiing in the Coquihalla and Manning area. That terrain is close by and isn't too terribly demanding so you'll also have access to lots and lots of nice safe early season stuff. Join clubs like the ACC and BCMC just to get hold of people who do this kind of stuff. The ACC Okanaganb section is pretty active. Nothing like time on hill.

Once you get a little more experienced then you can get out more and will have more options.
post #14 of 23

chicken and egg hijack

Reopening this thread as another back country (AT, not Tele) neophyte.

I ski minor back country as conditions permit by hiking out of bounds of our local resort in shallow, heavily treed terrain that is skied a lot and not avalanche prone. This has whetted my appetite to venture farther afield. I should add that I'd live and ski in avalanche country(Berthoud/San Juans) and that I don't have a ready army of BC ski buddies to conduct the initiation.

What should come first, the AVY course or the guided BC excursion?

I've no death-wish and so would take an avalanche course (and go with experienced people or guides for my first few thousand trips). But don't you have to be either a tele skier or have AT experience to take the field portion of the avy class? On the other hand, i don't want my first experience to be screwing up some unsuspecting guided group's BC trip trying to learn and keep up at the same time. Either way, I'm afraid I'd be like a fifth wheel. I think I can rent AT gear and skins and stumble around my home resort, but that doesn't seem the most efficient or effective way to go about it.

And any recomendations on specific avy classes or guide service that could accomodate a BC beginner in Colorado or NM (WP or southern San Juans area preferable)would be appreciated. I searched the forum and the recommended classes i saw mentioned were in Utah.

And truly, which should come first?

Thank you for indulging my ignorant (but respectful and honest ) questions.
post #15 of 23

Babes helping babes

How 'bout this as a resource?

Babes in the Backcountry
post #16 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mom
Reopening this thread as another back country (AT, not Tele) neophyte.

I ski minor back country as conditions permit by hiking out of bounds of our local resort in shallow, heavily treed terrain that is skied a lot and not avalanche prone. This has whetted my appetite to venture farther afield. I should add that I'd live and ski in avalanche country(Berthoud/San Juans) and that I don't have a ready army of BC ski buddies to conduct the initiation.

What should come first, the AVY course or the guided BC excursion?

I've no death-wish and so would take an avalanche course (and go with experienced people or guides for my first few thousand trips). But don't you have to be either a tele skier or have AT experience to take the field portion of the avy class? On the other hand, i don't want my first experience to be screwing up some unsuspecting guided group's BC trip trying to learn and keep up at the same time. Either way, I'm afraid I'd be like a fifth wheel.
MOM!!! Get over it! I'm certain that most, if not all, guides and experienced skiers would much rather ski with someone who is on the learning curve and who knows it rather than with someone who knows just enough to be dangerous and is unwilling or unable to learn anything else. I try to adopt a position of enlightened cluelessness whenever possible; it's usually necessary in my constantly evolving field of software development.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mom
I think I can rent AT gear and skins and stumble around my home resort, but that doesn't seem the most efficient or effective way to go about it.

And any recomendations on specific avy classes or guide service that could accomodate a BC beginner in Colorado or NM (WP or southern San Juans area preferable)would be appreciated. I searched the forum and the recommended classes i saw mentioned were in Utah.

And truly, which should come first?

Thank you for indulging my ignorant (but respectful and honest ) questions.
In a perfect world, your intro to backcountry skiing might include a few hours in a classroom going over the fundamentals of staying alive in avalanche country. The next day, you might enter the backcountry in low-risk terrain with one or more seasoned avalanche professionals to practice what you learned. I personally don't know anybody who planned it out that carefully, though. I know I didn't. But I'm the kind of guy who won't start going to the gym until he's in shape enough to go to the gym. So I don't approach things real methodically sometimes. If I had to do it again, and assuming I had the funds, I'd hire a guide to introduce me to backcountry skiing and just pepper him or her with questions the entire time we were skiing.

I don't know where in NM you are living, but before I could ever link more than two turns in the backcountry, I spent some time just skinning up the forest service road through Big Tesuque basin just out of bounds from the Santa Fe Ski area and skiing through the trees at the top where they thin out.

Here is a link to a page put up by an outdoors store in Santa Fe that describes the Big Tesuque area. I'm sure if you walked into a store like this and said you wanted to get started in backcountry skiing, you would end up with, at the very least, some pointers to locations, organizations, classes, etc in your local area. You might even meet someone who you could ski with.

There is some really nice, and pretty safe, ski touring and backcountry skiing in a good snow year in the Jemez west of Los Alamos and north of Pajarito peak. I think maybe the Los Alamos Ski Club would probably be your best resource for this area.

When I lived in Santa Fe and Los Alamos, I also went up a couple times to Neff Mountain in the Cumbres Pass area just north of Chama (where the narrow-gauge railroad goes in the summer). There is some great snow up there, but this is the real enchilada in terms of avalanche risk. I learned here first hand that if the snow goes WHOOOMPH every time you take a step, it isn't just a delightful sound effect that mother nature provides to spice up the outdoors experience. It's a very clear message about snow instability, a message saying that I was skiing in an area of hollow, unstable snow. So this is when I started taking avalanche safety a little more seriously.

The Southwest Nordic Center operates some yurts here at Cumbres Pass and in a couple of other locations in Southwest Colorado and Northern NM. They also offer guided trips to those yurts, so that might be an option

And finally, I would skin up to make some runs at ski areas (Santa Fe, Alta, Sun Valley) before the area opened for the season. I eventually realized that just because there are lifts and cat-tracks and perhaps dozens of turn-starved skiers around me doing the same thing, this approach to earning your turns isn't any safer than going deep in the backcountry. If anything, it's probably more dangerous since there is a false sense of security. So if I ever do this again, it will be on very low angle terrain.
post #17 of 23
Wow, thanks Gnarlito. Great advice. I ski the Big T every year there's enough snow cover, but down only, not up! So I will play around with going up the Aspen Vista road and then go to one of the guide services next, keeping your perspective in mind. Really do appreciate the very thoughtful response.
post #18 of 23
No problem
Regarding technique and equipment, AT is the quickest route, although not the least expensive, if you are already a competent alpine skier. If you can do a kick turn, a sidestep/shuffle step through unpacked snow, and a simple cross- country skiing diagonal stride, you've got the basic AT uphill skills pretty much dialed in. Add friends, skins, sunscreen, camelbak, transceiver, probe, shovel, duct tape, Clif bars, and sweat (and maybe some Ibuprofen and a healthy pinch of avalanche awareness ), and you've got the rest of the package.
post #19 of 23
what a great thread. this deserves a sticky.
post #20 of 23
Friends of Berthoud offers inexpensive well rounded courses. I believe Hacksaw usually teaches at these. They are not so much classes as outdoor labs. You will learn a ton with these guys. You can find out more here: http://www.saveberthoud.org
post #21 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by killclimbz
Friends of Berthoud offers inexpensive well rounded courses. I believe Hacksaw usually teaches at these. They are not so much classes as outdoor labs. You will learn a ton with these guys. You can find out more here: http://www.saveberthoud.org
How perfect is that?! Seems like a wonderful organization. Thanks for the link.
post #22 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mom
How perfect is that?! Seems like a wonderful organization. Thanks for the link.
You're welcome

Most of the old patrol and safety experts from the old ski area and snowcat operation run this gig. They probably represent a few hundred years of experience.
post #23 of 23
MOM - a bunch of the skiers in this thread about a trip I did were from Santa Fe - there's a very active bc skiing community there. http://forums.epicski.com/showthread.php?t=25183

It should be no problem to find partners.
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home