Thursday December 29, 2016
Yes, of course backcountry skiing keeps our bodies well toned. More surprisingly, skiing in the backcountry keeps our minds fresh with lessons learned from a variety of situations. The never ending quest for more efficient ways of doing things, better gear choices, furthering avalanche education, and probably the 2 most important things: learning from our past experiences (mistakes) and learning from our ski partners (conscious listening) keeps our minds working overtime.
Fridtjof Nansen, the famous backcountry skier and Nobel Peace Prize winner, stated very clearly in 1890 the following regarding skiing: “One’s whole being is, so to say, wrapped in one’s ski and the surrounding nature. There is something in the whole, which develops soul and not body alone. I know of no sport which so evenly develops the muscles, which renders the body so strong and elastic, which teaches so well the qualities of dexterity and resource, which in an equal degree calls for decision and resolution, and which gives the same vigor and exhilaration to mind and body alike."
With over 30 years of backcountry skiing experience on 6 continents, on a variety ski outings ranging from yo-yoing pow laps to expeditions; here are some tips that I have learned.
Ten Backcountry Ski Gearhacks & Tips
- It is mandatory to complete a 2-3 day Avy 1 course (avalanche education). Openly communicate with your ski partner(s) on the objectives and goals for the particular ski outing. Express any hidden agendas.
- Follow weather pattern and snowpack over the full course of the season to stay on top of what is happening on the slopes you want to ski.
- Make sure all your gear is functional and go the extra step of putting all your gear on while in the living room, in the dark.
(Day of the ski outing)
- Check the weather and avalanche forecast. During stormy weather, do not enter un-familiar territory unless you are well versed in map reading along with GPS, etc.
- Before arriving at the trailhead, text your plans to a few friends or family.
- Please practice parking lot camaraderie. The backcountry trailhead parking lot differs greatly from the ski resort parking lot. The strangers in the parking lot might possibly be digging your ass out of an avalanche or breaking trail through deep, thick snow. Talk to the other users in the parking lot about conditions and what their ski day involves. You will probably see them out on the skin track, so start the conversation early.
- Patience is a virtue in many ways in the backcountry. Yes, there might be a rush to get first tracks, so weigh that against possible mistakes made by rushing and the added consequence of a mistake while in the backcountry. Don’t rush skin track transitions on the way up. Save the awkward pose injury for your hot yoga class.
- Don’t break your ski gear! Skis do not explode and packs don’t rip apart on their own. And bindings. Let’s just say be nice to them and avoid any additional mishaps to these contraptions that bind our bodies to the skis. Learn the limits of your gear at the resort or low-consequence tours. Lightweight usually does not equate to bomber.
- Survey shows: the most popular repair kit carried in the backcountry contains 2 items: baling wire and duct tape combined with a dash of ingenuity. And, the most popular 1st aide kit carried is the duct tape combined with first aide training. A simple multi-tool has saved many a day.
- Finally, don't get hurt. Use your best ski skills at all times to ride the un-groomed terrain with confidence.
Top Ten Backcountry Skiing Essentials
- Beacon, probe and shovel
- Adjustable Poles
- Extra Layer
- Extra Gloves
- Goggles / Sunglasses
- Hat / Neck Gaiter
- Sunscreen / Lip Balm
- Snacks / Hydration / Energy Booster
1. BCA Stash 30 - Designed for backcountry skiing with the essential number of pockets and amenities. A+ if you use an Avy Airbag backpack.
2. BCA T3 Rescue Package and Slope Meter - minimum avalanche rescue tools. Don't skimp. Essential if you desire to ski in optimum conditions. Optimum ski terrain with lots of fresh powder just happens to also be the most likely to avalanche.
3. K2 Skins - Treat them nice as they will not only get you to some best runs of your life but also get you out of dangerous areas and save your life.
4. LEKI Aergon 2 Adjustable Poles - Ease of use and bomber to lean on with full pack or clear snow from boots/skis.
5. Marmot Calen Hoody - Super light puffies are great for city fashion. Medium weight for layering in mountains.
6. Marmot Randonnee Glove - Use lightweight gloves for the hike and stow the warm, dry gloves for the top and descent.
8. Buff - Light weight for hiking and another warm hat/helmet for descent. 2 lightweight buff neck gaiters can be configured to keep you protected but not overheated.
9. Beyond Coastal - We learned the hard way in Antarctica that the label says every 2 hours for a reason.
10. GoRaw / Klean Kanteen / Voke Tab - High calorie that won’t freeze, is easy on tummy and won’t give you the squirts or farts - respect your skin-track partners. Drink most of your water prior to departing the trailhead and carry a smaller water bottle filled with room temperature water. An afternoon caffeine boost and mountaineer’s secret.
Extra’s from Ken
11. Cabrinha Kite - On the right day and location, a snowkite adds another level to the best backcountry experience.
12. Voile Ski Strap - Can be used for a variety of repairs and is a must for steep boot packs.
See you out on the slopes!