How To: Get Started In Backcountry Skiing

Posted: 02.22.2023
Posted: 02.22.2023
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In Partnership with Exum Guides

Making the switch from the ski resort to the backcountry shouldn’t be treated lightly. You might be an expert skier, but once you access the backcountry and enter into uncontrolled avalanche terrain with natural elements, everyone starts again as a beginner. Luckily, with practice, knowledge, education, and some coaching it’s attainable, and when done safely provides a lifetime of fun exploration.

The backcountry is a complex learning environment that is constantly changing, it’s what makes putting the puzzle pieces together so fun. However, even before you embark on the education and knowledge it’s important to get the gear and know how to use it.

Packing the Right Gear for Backcountry Skiing

While a transceiver, probe, and shovel along with a dedicated ski backpack to properly store the gear is needed, you should also think about first aid, repair kits, emergency gear, satellite phone/communications, among other things. Having the proper equipment can make a small issue obsolete or help combat a major problem along the way. And regardless of having the gear, making sure you take the time to practice with your rescue gear is very important—most professionals do this regularly throughout the season.

Here's a quick check-list to get you started, but as always there may be additional pieces of gear depending on where you're skiing in the backcountry and what kind of objective you're looking to take on:

  • Avalanche Beacon
  • Shovel
  • Probe
  • Two Way Radio
  • Satellite device for Emergency Communication
  • Topo Map and/or Navigation App
  • Food/Water
  • Extra Layers
  • Headlamp
  • Helmet
  • Basic Gear Repair Kit
  • Multi-tool
  • Emergency First-Aid Kit

*If you're looking to choose the best skis for backcountry skiing, click HERE to read our 'How to Choose Touring Skis' blog (or just jump straight to our touring skis HERE). Additionally, if you have any questions about binding selection in backcountry skiing... click HERE to read our 'How to Choose Ski Bindings' blog. We got you covered. 🤝

Getting to Know Your Gear + Courses and Education (Exum Guides Can Help)

Once you get the gear it’s time to get sorted with how to safely begin backcountry skiing. With regards to avalanche education, oftentimes skiers think they need to just jump into a Level 1 Avalanche Course at the same time they pick up their set of touring skis, boots, and bindings. While a Recreation Avalanche 1 course is definitely needed, it doesn’t have to be the literal first step. Exum Guides offer avalanche awareness courses, or intro to backcountry skiing courses, where you can build the skills needed to begin the journey. These are often more beneficial to begin with, as they offer large brush strokes before diving into a Level 1. It’s typical for skiers to take their Level 1 too early and end up re-taking it again before their Level 2 course. Jump over to EXUM GUIDES website to learn more about their epic range of entry level classes and camps.

Coaches, Mentors, and Friends in the Backcountry

Lastly, another way to get started backcountry skiing is to find coaches, mentors, and friends who will bring you along but also help you learn. This is always tricky as some skiers have friends who may not be the best backcountry partners, so tread carefully here and know that you can also hire a guide to help get you more comfortable.

Having some coaching or guiding, and knowledge through formalized courses is ideal as it bridges the gap from a course. Courses are a lot of information, and most folks want to take an avalanche course then ski the biggest line after it snows three feet - unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. When the big lines get skied in deep, and stable powder, it’s a culmination of years of experience. So saddle up and get ready to learn and grow as a backcountry skier. We’ll be speaking more about this on the 4FRNT Blog through the winter and spring to help you along.


Words by Erme Catino
Photos by Leslie Hittmeier

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