HOW TO GET STARTED BACKCOUNTRY SKIING & SNOWBOARDING?
There are many barriers to overcome in backcountry snowboarding and skiing, but the powder, freedom and adventure are highly rewarding. To help you get past the initial hurdles, we’ve compiled these basic steps.
In addition to these initial steps, we'd also recommend:
- Find a Partner You Trust - Attending Splitboard Meetups or taking your AIARE 1 course are great ways to overcome this initial barrier and find some partners you can trust, and help you grow in the backcountry.
- Demo a Splitboard - Purchasing your first setup can be a monetary investment. Hit up a local shop or email us directly to see about testing out a board before you make the leap.
- Start in Low Angle Zones - There are tons of great places to start riding in safe environments with low avalanche risk. Start in your local resorts (but make sure you check their uphill access policies) or check our listing of low angle zones.
- Practice Split Skiing - To tag onto the above, at some point you are going to be in ski mode. Make your life a little easier, go take the board out first on a resort or local sledding hill to get your feet under you.
Always ride with the necessary gear. Anytime you enter the backcountry, it is essential to have the proper gear with you. Avalanche safety equipment is key, but it is also important to bring first aid and repair gear, as well as the right clothing.
Get the Gear
We recommend you bring at the very least:
- Snowboard - your favorite Weston of course
- Skins - if you are planning on skinning
- Avalanche beacon - “On at the car, off at the bar”
- Avalanche probe – carbon or aluminum; it doesn't matter as long as you have it
- Shovel - we recommend a sturdy one with a metal blade
- First aid kit – snow is soft, trees aren't
- Basic repair kit - duct tape, ski straps, and a multi-tool (such as Spark R&D's Spark Tool), etc.
- Additional warm layers - puffy jacket, mittens, hat, etc.
- Water/snacks – its hard to say stoked if you are hungry
A radio and an inflatable avalanche airbag are additional items that can help keep you safe
Make sure you are familiar with your gear, and practice using it. For a more extensive list of things we recommend, check this link.
Get the Training
There is no replacement for an accredited avalanche safety course. In the US, AIARE certified courses are the standard, but wherever you take your class make sure it is taught by a professional. In these courses you will learn how to recognize and travel in avalanche terrain safely, assess hazards and perform a rescue in the event that someone is buried by an avalanche. Generally courses consist of a classroom session where you will focus on some of the concepts surrounding avalanches, followed by two days out on the snow. AIARE is a great resource for finding an accredited avalanche education provider.
Get the Forecast
Read your local avalanche center's advisory. These forecasts are usually updated daily, giving you a good idea of what to expect in the backcountry, and warning you of potential problems you may come across. http://www.avalanche.org/ is a good resource for finding your local avalanche center.]
Get the Picture
Research where you plan to ride. Look at maps and photos, read trip reports, and plan a route that fits your group's objectives and the current avalanche conditions. Make a backup plan in case conditions are different from expected.
On the drive to the trailhead, and once you are on the snow, keep an eye out for signs of recent avalanches and other red flags. Be attentive and discuss signs of instability with your group. Have an ongoing discussion throughout the day about the conditions and potential hazards; do not be afraid to change plans if conditions change.
Get out of Harm's Way
Practice safe travel techniques in the backcountry. Always ride with a buddy. Discuss and limit your group's exposure to hazards. When in avalanche terrain, ride one at a time, between agreed upon safe zones. Always keep visual and/or radio contact with your partners. Respect closures, and do not enter areas where avalanche control work is underway. Finally, be aware of your group in the bigger context; if you intentionally set off an avalanche, it may endanger your group, but are there others below you it will?
This process is a group effort. Encourage communication and maintain an ongoing dialogue about what people are seeing. Everyone's opinion is valid and should be respected. Everyone has the right to veto a decision or run if they don't feel comfortable, and the group should be willing to change the plan accordingly. Remember, the mountains will always be there to ride another day.
The information provided on this page is not intended to be a complete guide to safety in the backcountry, but rather a starting point. If you plan on riding in the backcountry we highly recommend you seek out professional training, but we have compiled some resources below to help you further your education.
http://kbyg.org/ - The source for most of this page. Great intro tips to backcountry safety
http://avtraining.org/ - American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education—A good place to find the right avalanche course for your needs
http://www.avalanche.org/ - Has links to all the Avalanche Centers in the US
http://www.fsavalanche.org/ - National Avalanche Center
https://backcountryaccess.com/learn-avalanche-safety/ - Great online resource with everything from avalanche basics to case studies
https://www.ortovox.com/safety-academy-lab/avalanche-basics - An interactive website covering avalache basics
http://www.hillmap.com/ - A great resource for planning routes and investigating terrain. Use the slope shading overlay to get an idea of relative slope angles in zones.
Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain, by Bruce Tremper - A great book covering everything from heuristic traps to snow science