How I Came to Know and Love the Backcountry

North American Hot Spots
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Colorado-Bound? Patience, Young Backcountry Grasshopper
According to the Colorado Geological Survey, over the last 18 winters there were 111 deaths caused by avalanches in the Rocky Mountain Stateā€”more than anywhere else in the United States (Alaska ranks second with 78 deaths). If you plan on heading into Colorado's backcountry, know your stuff and go with an experienced guide.

All right, enough preaching. You get the point. Now you want to know where to go. The whole point of going backcountry is so that you can ski wherever there's snow. So the directive of where to go is simple: Go anywhere. But here is a handful of worthy North America regions if you've got your snow tires on and want some direction.

British Columbia
I like to think there’s a more subtle reason the province goes by BC for short: This is above-treeline backcountry paradise. From Vancouver east into the Coastal Range, the Rockies' and the Purcells' vast national parks offer extensive hut systems and cozy lodges smack-dab in the middle of nowhere. There are dozens of classic multi-day tours over glaciered terrain (note: crevasses are bad) to keep any backcountry skier in heaven. The snow is traditionally thick and relatively stable. Look up the Alpine Club of Canada, check out Garibaldi Provincial Park, and ski the backside of Whistler resort (

Daylong guided backcountry outings and telemark ski clinics are also offered by Whistler Blackcomb Resort.

The lightest snow in the world is in Utah, and no skier should go without experiencing it. The Wasatch Range, a snowball's throw from downtown Salt Lake, is home to some of the best tele skiers on the planet. Avalanche risks can be high, with huge, high-altitude runout slopes draining into prime ski territory. But be careful and the rewards are there. Park at Snowbird ( or Alta ( ski areas in Little Cottonwood Canyon and head across the road away from the lift lines.

Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
This is the only resort included here, and the reason ain't 'cause 50 percent of the slopes are rated as expert (though that doesn't hurt). In 1999 the Jackson Hole Resort initiated an open-boundary policy, which means lift access to over 3,000 acres of Wyoming backcountry. Among the most accessible: Cody Bowl, just south of Rendezvous Bowl; Pinedale Canyon; No Name Canyon; and Jenson Canyon (the latter few require hiking rather than telemarking, however, which can be as challenging as the piste). Further afield, some 120 square miles of Teton backcountry await, including the full expanse of Grand Teton National Park—but definitely arrange for a guide if you head in this direction.

The resort offers guide services, has a wide variety of adult instruction classes, and holds three multi-day backcountry camps throughout the winter season.

Sierra Nevada
Access can be tough, but once you're in, you're way in. California’s high peaks are best entered through the remote eastern town of Bishop. The snow is famously heavy, but backcountry is backcountry and a Sierra dump can leave enough snow to drown in. The High Sierra Traverse is a weeklong adventure as renowned as any tour in Europe.

East Coast
Don’t laugh. Burton snowboards were christened here and telemarkers have been crowding Mount Washington’s Tuckerman’s Ravine in New Hampshire for more than a century. Each spring thousands of skiers flock to its 50-degree cliff-pocked face for extreme skiing worthy of the western ranges. Large open swaths in New York’s Adirondack High Peaks also have enough exciting terrain to blow the pit zips off anyone.

Abrahm Lustgarten in an internationally published, award-winning photojournalist whose work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Newsweek , and Men's Journal magazines. He most frequently covers social, travel and outdoor adventure subjects, and is a regular contributor to You can see more of his work at

Published: 23 Dec 2003 | Last Updated: 24 Oct 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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