After years and years of resort skiing, you’ve probably heard about skiing the backcountry and you may be ready even to go off-piste, but you’re not sure where to start. Don’t worry we got you covered.
There are many similar terms thrown around for backcountry skiing: there’s slackcountry, off piste (in Europe), sidecountry etc. They all describe pretty much the same thing but with small differences relating to the type of access or the proximity to ski area boundaries.
It doesn’t matter what you call it, though, the important thing is the experience and the thrill you have when you ski untouched snow, through tree glades or across wide alpine meadows.
Safety first! Importance of avalanche training
The old saying goes: you have to know how to walk before you can run. This applies to backcountry skiing, too. Don’t even attempt to go out of bounds until you familiarize yourself with proper avalanche training.
The rise of popularity in backcountry skiing has increased the concern of more experienced skiers who see lots of unprepared riders making rookie mistakes that pose a threat to everyone around them.
Don’t be too cool for school and make sure you go through proper training before you go searching for untouched powder.
Good introductory courses usually last 3 to 4 days and cover the basics of terrain assessment and rescue. You’ll need this is rudimentary knowledge for the rest of your backcountry career.
You’ll also learn snowpack tests, observation techniques and proper ways to find safe routes. Besides important skills you’ll expand your vocabulary with backcountry specific terms and adopt new routines. You’ll learn to check for avalanche activity in your area and to keep track of weather reports.
To have a great time on the fresh powder you must come prepared. Skiis, boots, climbing skins and poles are just the beginning. After your course you’ll be also familiar with mandatory avalanche safety equipment that will now become part of your packing routine.
Do a quick research and create a checklist of the items you’ll need. Everything from appropriate jacked to sunscreen will make your day easier. There is no universal advice when it comes to picking the right gear but there are plenty of online reviews that will help you make a decision.
4 Beginner-Friendly Backcountry Skiing Trip Locations in North America
Nature and snow are beautiful but unpredictable, so good trip planning is essential. Round up your friends and start making plans for your first backcountry tour.
If you are still feeling insecure to go on your own adventure you can look up backcountry skiing courses and let that be your first trip. If you’re confident in your skills, we still recommend hiring a local guide, not just because of that added safety they provide.
Guided tours are usually tailored for your group’s skill level, which can help you make the most out of the experience. Another thing to remember is that guides are usually locals. They spend significant time in the area and can show you cool spots that you might not find otherwise.
Of course, the location, terrain and accessibility of fresh powder will influence your decision making process, so here are some suggestions where you can go to level up your shredding skills.
1. Vail Pass, Colorado
Colorado is a known stomping ground for many expert level skiers and the local community and backcountry etiquette is highly developed. Locals live for the fresh powder and untouched snow.
But don’t let this intimidate you. Colorado mountains offer something for everybody. One such destination that can be kind to first timers is Vail Pass.
Located in the Rocky Mountains, more specifically between Eagle and Summit Counties on Interstate 70 highway, Vail Pass sits at 10,666’ elevation. It offers moderate terrain and fairly easy access right off the highway or via snowmobile service.
Another great thing about Vail Pass is that the terrain varies and there are steeper chutes for more experienced backcountry skiers, so it’s good for mixed groups with different experience levels. Vail Pass is also good for families and it’s close to some great resorts and lodges in Lionshead and Vail Village.
2. Mill D North Fork, Utah
Big Cottonwood Canyon in the Wasatch Range is a notable ski paradise in Utah that offers plenty of well known trails as well as hidden gems reserved for people in the know.
Just up the canyon from Reynolds Peak you’ll find Mill D, a recommended starting point with mild terrain and amazing views.
Due to its position it is somewhat shielded from avalanches but caution is always advised.
This is a proper ski touring delight that is super close to Salt Lake City. If you’re looking to have a full ski trip in the area, you can stay at Solitude or Brighton Ski Resort.
3. Whistler, Canada
While this isn’t by any means a hidden gem, many people aren’t aware that apart from resort skiing, Whistler offers access to prime backcountry skiing terrain.
This prominent skiing spot in British Columbia comes with a bit steeper prices but it’s also very convenient for families traveling with children. It’s a great place to start and you can have fun skiing within the resort area if the backcountry proves too challenging.
Whistler can get a bit crowded during the high season but the après is abundant so it’s a good tradeoff.
Access is key here. Just outside of resort borders you can find prime alpine terrain, tree runs and wide open meadows. Be careful and choose what’s appropriate for your ski level.
4. Alpine Meadows, California
Approximately 5 miles west from Tahoe City this resort area offers a laid back vibe with less crowds than its neighbors. Great for finding peace of mind, this resort area offers diverse terrain for all ski levels.
If you are truly a beginner, do your due diligence before choosing your runs.
Alpine Meadows is focused on having a true backcountry experience and you will need to earn your turns here. T
his means that even if some of the terrain is ok for beginners, good shape and physical fitness are prerequisites on your way skinning up. Have fun!
image credit: MaxPixel