Getting into the backcountry is one of the best things you can do once you’re a competent skier. There is nothing quite like getting away from the crowds and taking a step closer to nature, but you can’t just wander into the backcountry unprepared. So here are my 5 top tips to getting into the backcountry!
WITH JOSS BALDWIN
1. Get the Gear
The most important thing about being in the backcountry is safety! If you don’t have the correct gear, you leave yourself vulnerable to all manner of dangers. The first thing you need to get is avalanche gear, at minimum, this means a transceiver, probe and shovel. Once you have the gear you’ll need to learn how to use it.
You’ll also need to think about your clothing. Layering correctly in the backcountry is essential. My go-to set up is a Fall Line Base Layer (that wicks sweat away and keeps me cool and dry when ski touring), a Cloud 9 Insulator (these keep you nice and toasty when its cold out and are super packable) and the Yeti Hunter Jacket (super waterproof and breathable with lots of handy pockets).
I won’t get into ski touring setups as that’s a whole sea of information in itself. Other pieces of gear to think about are first aid kits, avalanche airbags, walkie talkies and duct tape (trust me it can be a lifesaver if things go wrong!).
2. Find Some Friends
Going into the backcountry by yourself is a big no-no! If something goes wrong and you find yourself incapacitated, you might well end up relying on the hope that somebody realises you’re missing before it’s too late.
Find some buddies who have similar ambitions to you, its all very well and good if you want to go and ski mellow untouched powder fields, but if your mate wants to find the steepest gnarliest lines about, you mind find yourselves butting heads with each other.
The other thing I can’t recommend enough is finding people with more experience than you, knowledge is a super important factor in the backcountry. If you can learn the ropes from somebody else you’ll find you have more fun and keep yourself safer!
3. Get Some Training / Be Prepared
Carrying on from spending time with experienced shredders, getting real, formal training could save your life or your friend’s lives. Knowing how to effectively use your avi gear in a search and rescue situation is essential. Being able to read the terrain for signs of avalanche danger is also key, especially if you’re going to be ski touring (you don’t want to find yourself walking through a terrain trap in high avalanche risk).
Reading avalanche bulletins will give you valuable information about what the snowpack is doing in your area. It's always worth going and talking to the local pisteurs, these guys know what is happening in your local resort better than anybody else, and they might have some key information that wasn’t included in the general avi bulletin. It is always worth packing other essential items like spare gloves and goggles (the Hunter Leather Mitt is my go-to) lots of food and water and other survival gear.
4. Start Small
As much as you might want to be the next big mountain adventurer straight away, it's always best to start small so you can learn the ropes. My first few ski touring trips were just out of bounds, in areas where if something did go wrong it was pretty easy to get around.
In Tignes, like much of Europe you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to easy access backcountry, so go and cut your teeth on some low consequence routes that give you a feel for what to expect on bigger trips.
5. Have Fun
By far the most important thing to do (besides coming home alive) is to have fun and enjoy the experience. There are few better ways to spend time in the mountains than skiing in amazing places, all behind the power of your own two legs and a little bit of stoke!