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A Beginners Guide To The Backcountry

by Nick Baines November 15, 2019

The feeling of gliding through untracked powder is a world away from the freshly groomed runs of the resort, but it doesn’t come easy. As well as adjusting the way you ski or snowboard, you’ll also need to have your wits about you and plan accordingly. If this is your first foray into the backcountry, then this fistful of powder tips are going to be invaluable. 

Baby Steps

Before you go galavanting off into the unknown, it’s a good idea to plot some easy little routes not too far from the piste. This is a great introduction and training ground for riding powder. Ideally you want to look for sections of snow that are easily accessible by a lift and run somewhat parallel to the piste. Yes, these areas are likely to be tracked out rapidly, but it’s much easier to hike out back to the piste than if you head off away from the resort. 

Unlike your blue, red and black runs which finish at a lift station, your powder lines could take you anywhere, so it’s important to consult a map and have strong bearings of where you're heading. You’ll often find sections of powder between the meandering bends of the piste, which allow you to get used to the feeling of riding deeper snow, but in short bursts so that you can rest your untrained legs. 

 

Modify Your Riding

Riding the piste, you have a sound surface for your equipment to plane on, but in the backcountry things are a little different. In this environment you need to ensure that the front tip of your skis or snowboard are raised out of the powder. Failing to do this means you will quickly loose speed and become buried. Speed is most certainly your friend here as this will help you to ‘stay afloat’ and glide across the surface, rather than getting bogged down. It can take a bit of getting used to, particularly as you need to keep your weight back and initiate turns from the rear. 

 

Invest In Equipment, Training & Guides

It goes without saying that you should seek expert advice when going beyond the barriers into the backcountry. You can find training courses in the resort where you’ll learn how to use probes, shovels and transceivers properly, how to asses the snowpack and how to search for buried parties in the field. 

However, the very best way to get the most from the backcountry is to use the services of a guide. This remains relevant for all ability levels right through to your advanced rider. These guys know exactly where to find the good stuff and can save you a lot of valuable time and effort. They’ll also ensure you’re riding in safe areas, avoid unnecessary hikes out, and generally get you home in one piece. You’ll also glean a lot of valuable tips and mountain know-how from a good guide, while getting access to some of the best powder to be had. 

 




Nick Baines
Nick Baines

Author

With an insatiable thirst for travel, Nick Baines is a journalist based on the UK’s south coast. With more than 20 years experience in snow sports, he’s contributed features to publications all over the world.



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