Intro to BC Skiing & Safety

Intro to BC Skiing & Safety

The backcountry can provide some of the most inspiring experiences you’ll ever have on snow.

Exploring the mountains with a crew of friends to hunt steep lines, tour for untouched powder or build a jump to session into soft landings opens your eyes to a new vision of the sport. It’s easy to understand why more skiers are venturing into the backcountry each season, but the mountains always demand respect. When you enter backcountry terrain, you’re responsible for the decisions you make and for the safety of yourself and your ski partners.

But what is the backcountry?

It’s any terrain outside the boundaries of avalanche-controlled resort terrain. That includes resort-adjacent terrain you might be able to see or access from the top of a chairlift, commonly referred to as sidecountry or slackcountry. If there’s a sign or gate that says you’re leaving controlled resort terrain, you are entering backcountry terrain and need to be prepared. 

Backcountry terrain doesn’t undergo avalanche mitigation, and ski patrol or other rescue crews may not be able to quickly and safely respond to an accident there. It’s essential to have the knowledge and skills to assess and navigate avalanche terrain and to always carry appropriate rescue and safety gear. It’s up to all of us to take care of ourselves, our partners and each other. No matter how epic the snow looks, it’s never worth dying for. The mountains will be there tomorrow. 

Part 1: BC Crew Management

BC Crew Management

The right backcountry ski partners make it possible to have incredible days in the mountains, but more goes into building a solid, safe crew than picking people you have fun shredding with.

Factors to consider include backcountry experience, mindset, goals, skier ability, and the ability to communicate openly. You’re all in it together in the backcountry, so choose partners you can trust. This can not be overstated, in the BC your crew is all you have to rely on if things go south.

Good decisions avoid putting your life on the line, and good planning allows you to ski the best snow and lines of your life. The right crew will help you achieve both and ensure a lifetime of adventure in the backcountry.

Part 2: What’s in my Avy Pack?

What’s in my Avy Pack?

Always carry avalanche rescue gear when traveling in the backcountry.

It doesn’t matter how tame the terrain looks or how close you might be to a chairlift, there are no exceptions. You and your ski partners are each other’s lifelines.

 

Backcountry safety gear starts with the Skier’s Holy Trinity: avalanche beacon, shovel and probe. These absolutely need to be in your pack every time you ski in the backcountry. Without them, you’re helpless to assist your partners or yourself in the event of an avalanche. We also recommend bringing items like an emergency bivy or space blanket, a first aid kit and some food and water in case of an accident or injury.

Rescue gear is only as effective as the person using it. Practice often, and make sure your partners do too.

Start by taking a class like the ones mentioned in the education section below. Set up rescue drills by yourself and with your ski partners. Challenge each other to get better with different scenarios, and you’ll begin to become experts using your gear in any situation the mountains present.

 

The right gear equips you to chase your inspiration in the mountains wherever it takes you. Don’t leave home without it.

Part 3: BC Education & Practice

BC Education & Practice

Know before you go. Knowledge and education are the foundation of safe backcountry skiing, no matter how skilled a skier you are.

A great place to start is with a class from a respected source like AAI or AIARE—links to territory-specific avalanche education resources are below—to learn where and how avalanches occur along with learning the basic skills of traveling in avalanche terrain and using your rescue gear. At a minimum, it’s recommended to take an Avalanche 1 Course and an Avalanche Rescue Course.

 

Completing those courses doesn’t instantly make you an expert, but it provides the framework to make informed decisions. If possible, take classes alongside your backcountry ski partners. You’ll always learn more together than by yourself, and you’ll have more fun, too.

 

Building a foundation of knowledge continues every time you head into the backcountry by checking the local conditions, studying the avalanche report and carefully considering the terrain. In the United States, you can find the avalanche forecasting center in your area by visiting avalanche.org

 

Backcountry education is a lifelong process, and you never stop learning no matter how much time you spend in the mountains. Talk with your partners on the way to trailhead or on the lift, learn from others in the backcountry community as you gain experience, and practice with your gear often. There’s no shortcutting these steps, but put in the time, and the results will be well worth it with some of the best skiing of your life.