backcountry skiing 101

So you want to get into Backcountry Touring - A Newcomer's Guide

February 11, 2021

BCA's backcountry touring newcomer's guide takes you through the four steps to getting started.

Blue sky, fresh air, the promise of untracked powder with friends—these are just a few reasons you may be considering getting into backcountry touring, not to mention the allure of the vibrant après scene you’ve witnessed at trailheads around town. BCA's backcountry touring newcomer's guide provides the top four things you should consider before hitting the backcountry for the first time.

    Backcountry Skiing Newcomer's Guide Step#1: Get the proper tools.

    You may have heard one of your backcountry-inclined buddies mumble these words under their breath before they hop into the car on the way to their day’s mission: “Beacon, shovel, probe, airbag.” This refrain is part of every tourer’s morning checklist—and they are words that should become ingrained into your very being. Backcountry touring is not just about having the right skis, boots, and poles. It’s about your safety and the safety of everyone traveling with you in the backcountry. 

    Backcountry Skiing Newcomer's Guide #2: Learn how to use those tools

    Understanding what avalanche, communication, and first aid tools are mandatory for any/all backcountry days is the next step to getting into backcountry skiing.

    You can’t become the next Dale Earnhardt or Danika Patrick before first learning how to drive. The same goes for setting goals and objectives in the backcountry. First comes learning, then comes skiing. Getting a proper education in backcountry travel and safety takes time. BCA offers video tutorials and tips for understanding how to use your beacon, shovel, and probe during a rescue and learning how to read an avalanche bulletin. To get started, BCA recommends that newcomers to the backcountry watch:

    Signing up and taking the appropriate avalanche courses listed here is the most crucial step in any ski tourer’s journey into the backcountry. While different countries offer different classes, all avalanche courses will teach you how to use essential safety tools and prepare you for the very real dangers that lurk on the skin track and in the snowpack.

    Backcountry Skiing Newcomer's Guide #3: Start small

    It’s true: getting an education can be empowering. But that doesn’t mean you try to ski down the north face of the Eiger or set out to tag all of Colorado’s 14ers right after you’ve taken your AIARE 1 course. Skiing can be extremely physically taxing, and it can take years to learn efficient travel techniques as you build up to bigger objectives. That’s why skinning up your local ski hill before or after operating hours—and following their designated uphill use rules—is a great place to start. From there, take your newfound skills onto mellow slopes accompanied by experienced backcountry travelers who can help you better understand slope angle, terrain management, and choice and snowpack assessment. Treat learning like a long-term apprenticeship, and don’t be afraid to discuss choices with those who are more knowledgeable than you. There are no stupid questions in the backcountry, and the only way to learn is to ask.

      Backcountry Skiing Newcomer's Guide #4: Practice makes perfect.

      It’s not possible to become an expert in a day. That’s why repeated practice with avalanche tools, navigation, group communication, and the backcountry basics and travel techniques is the best path to progressing as a tourer. We all have to learn how to pizza before we french fry, and the same learning curve applies to backcountry travel. So grab a friend and:

      • Practice avalanche beacon searches in your backyard or at a local beacon training park. 
      • Deploy your avalanche airbag at home to make sure you can use it properly in a backcountry emergency.
      • Pull out your probe from your backpack and quickly deploy the mechanism. 
      • Practice the latest shoveling techniques so that these skills are second nature if you have to use them to save a friend or loved one.

      To check out our industry-leading avalanche tools, visit the BCA shop. Take the time to learn more, watch BCA’s educational videos here.