Reaching Winter's Next Frontier

Learn to live in—and love—the backcountry surrounding three of Utah's premier ski resorts, with equal emphasis on education and deep-powder turns.
Into the Deep: Big powder turns at Snowbird (courtesy, Brent Benson/Snowbird)
How I Came to Know and Love the Backcountry
One skier's introduction to off-piste skiing reveals a wealth of information, from deciding when you're ready to go and how to survive an avalanche to a list of the country's best off-piste spots and gear essentials.
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Blame it on the gear manufacturers. If they weren't so good at their jobs, making backcountry equipment lighter, stronger, more reliable, and less expensive, your backcountry ambitions might be dwarfed by your outdoor-gear budget. As of 2006, less than $700 will get you the goods you need—shovel, skins, transceiver, avalanche probe, backcountry pack—to head beyond the boundaries. But all the money in the world can't buy what you need the most: training and experience—unless, that is, you long to become an avalanche statistic.

Thank the winter gods, then, for Utah. Not only does the state receive some of the world's best snow, not only are there 11 resorts within 60 miles of Salt Lake City, but a good bunch of 'em have guided introductions to the backcountry.

Here we profile off-piste programs hosted by three resorts—Snowbird, Solitude, and Powder Mountain—that offer their own unique take on finding some of the best damn skiing you're liable to encounter in your lifetime. Snowbird will make you feel most like a mountaineer, Solitude will lather on the avalanche-safety education, and Powder will revel in the giddy fun of it all.

But all three will likely take you where you've never been before, and where you'll always want to return.

The Fine Print
Yearning to cut fresh tracks in knee-high pow is the first step, but you should also have legit ski or 'boarding skills, and you shouldn't be dissuaded by the thought of trekking up a ridgeline with your boards strapped to your back. But if you're in good shape, can handle advance-level resort runs, and have a willing spirit, the backcountry awaits.

All resorts will provide the basic backcountry gear—transceivers, shovels, probes, and skins (when needed)—but a backpack with a good ski or snowboard carrying system comes highly recommended. For a complete list of snow-centric gear, CLICK HERE.

One final word of advice about skiing in the backcountry: if you're used to resort skiing with a few inches of fresh, don't look to catch an edge when turning as you would on a groomed run. Instead, treat the slope like a giant sofa, bouncing into the turns as the pow cushions each bent-knee push...and if you tumble, billows of the white stuff will soften the blow.


Nathan Borchelt is the lead editor for Away.com

Published: 28 Dec 2005 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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