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Backcountry skiing is one of the fastest growing industries in the outdoors. Untracked lines, solitude, exciting terrain, and challenges are enticing more and more skiers out of the resort boundaries.
Learning to safely go into the backcountry can be expensive and complicated, and not to mention dangerous – it’s not for everybody. Here are some resources to help you get started.
**Side Note** When we say “backcountry skiing” we mean both skiing and snowboarding [with or without a splitboard]!
You’ve watched hours and hours of ski films with epic lines and majestic skinning shots. Now you want to see if it’s actually something for you. Rent some gear and try a day or 2 of guided skiing. The only prerequisite is that you are a solid intermediate skier / rider and are comfortable with a variable snow pack.
If you live in the Front Range and are looking for a safe and mellow intro to backcountry. Try Bluebird Backcountry, an in-bounds backcountry ski area. It’s like the resorts that we know and love with warming huts and ski patrol but it has zero lifts. Bonus – they’re opening a new mountain this winter!
If you’re a shredder and go straight for the steeps. You want a guided experience in some big terrain. Try Silverton Mountain, the highest and steepest ski area in North America. There is no easy way down. And the way up? A single lift, helicopters, or human powered boot-packing.
If you usually travel and ski with a group of friends and are looking for a cool new experience. Try Third Eye Backcountry, a boutique adventure travel and ski company in the San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado. The San Juans are known for epic backcountry skiing and are worth the trip from the Front Range every. single. time. Third Eye offers fully customized hut trips and guided skiing in one of the wildest mountain ranges in North America.
Backcountry skiing is a rather gear-intensive sport. You’ll need AT boots / bindings, beacon-shovel-probe, skis or a splitboard, touring pack, skins, poles, and more…
The good news is that today’s touring gear is lighter and easier to use than ever. There’s an overwhelming amount of gear advice and reviews available on the internet. Check out wildsnow.com for some solid insight on the gear that is currently available. We recommend paying a visit to your local gear shop or guide company for advice and / or rentals.
Rentals are a great option if you’re not quite ready to commit to the cost of a full backcountry set up. You will have the opportunity to try out new-to-you gear, get a feel for the backcountry experience, and even try out different set-up styles before you commit. Many local gear shops, such as Wilderness Sports in Summit County, offer discounts toward future purchases if you rent from them.
When you’re ready to purchase a kit, keep in mind that the best gear for you is best suited for your objectives. You may want the lightest, fastest possible setup or maybe you prefer to spend most of your season on piste and need a setup for the occasional out of bounds adventure. Most importantly, make sure you know how to use your gear before you’re out in the backcountry.
This is especially true for your avalanche set up! You will need to have an avalanche beacon, probe, and metal shovel that you are comfortable using. These items aren’t used often but when they are needed they are quite literally saving a life. They are also *essential* for any backcountry or out of bounds travel. This includes popular easy access backcountry options such as Berthoud Pass and Loveland Pass. A ridden out slope is not necessarily a safe slope…avalanches are always a possibility when you are in the backcountry.
In the backcountry the learning never stops! Before you head out to earn your turns get educated in avalanche awareness. You can start with an avalanche awareness class. These “Know Before You Go” style workshops are regularly held at breweries and outdoor shops (or in today’s world, online!). Avalanche awareness classes are introductory and usually free or donation based. They are not an AIARE course replacement, but they are a good starting point. Follow your local backcountry groups (like Friends of Berthoud Pass or Friends of the San Juans) or check in at your local gear shop for more info.
Before you commit to backcountry adventures, an AIARE course is strongly recommended. These courses are intended for backcountry skiers, snowmobilers, and general winter enthusiasts. If you spend time in the mountains in winter, these courses are for you. AIARE offers recreational and professional avalanche courses for every level.
An AIARE course is a bigger time and financial commitment, but they are incredibly informative and teach you valuable skills for staying safe and performing avalanche rescues in the backcountry! There are three levels of AIARE courses in the Recreational Avalanche Training program with the first one being a great way to stick your toe into the realm of avalanche training.
**IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER** It’s important to maintain the mindset that no class, book, or online resource will guarantee that you will be safe in the backcountry. Colorado’s continental snow pack is one of the most dangerous in the country. It’s important to remember that recreating in the backcountry is very dangerous, and should not be taken lightly.
Additional Books + Podcast Resources: