How I Came to Know and Love the Backcountry
|The Sierras: A true winter wonderlandbut only if you know how to get there, what to bring along, and how to get back. (Corel)|
Hit the resorts and all you have to do is buy a ticket, but play in the backcountry and planning and preparation are required. Sorry for the buzz kill, but in addition to avalanche awareness you need to consider the following sobering things.
First, be prepared. As clichÃ©d as the Boy Scout motto may be, it's also essential for backcountry skiing. Be certain to have adequate clothing, food, and water for hours or days in a wilderness area, where frigid winter weather and sudden storms are a reality. Get the right gear and carry it on your back. Stick to your route, navigate with a map and compass or GPS, carefully plan out a detailed itinerary, and let someone (friends, park rangers, spouses) know where you're going and when you will be back.
When you leave the creature inconveniences of civilization behind, remember that the comforts go too. You canÂ’t afford to get wet with sweat, dehydrated, or low on blood sugar. Each of those little things could quickly kill you in the winter backcountry.
In general, plan a backcountry ski tour as you would a summer backpacking trip. Go with an experienced skier or guide and use a guidebook. Federal and state lands are typically open to skier access, and some resorts like Jackson Hole offer direct access to out-of-bounds territory, but some areas will require registration, or even permits, so check in advance with a ranger.
Skis, boots, and poles (complete packages run from about $400 to $1,100)
Appropriate winter clothing, including several separate layers of insulation, pants, shell, gloves, and a hat.
Goggles and sunglasses
A 25-pound pack with all of the following crammed in:
Up to 50 meters of climbing rope
Avalanche probe pole
Repair kit, including spare binding parts, duct tape
First-aid kit, including emergency blanket
Map, compass (an altimeter and GPS are nice for longer tours)
Food and water
Radio or cell phone
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication