*No article on the internet, video or conversation with friends on the chairlift is a substitute for formal avalanche education. DO NOT EVER ENTER THE BACKCOUNTRY without proper education, partners and equipment. BootDoctors® highly encourages continued education beyond the basic level 1 avalanche classes. Skiing in the backcountry is a lifelong learning process, your life is worth more than a few powder turns. We claim no responsibility for those who choose to enter the backcountry, do so on your own behalf and do so safely!*
We are all skiers, snowboarders and snow sliders. We are a tribe and family of adventurers, exploring the resort as children, laughing and giggling as teenagers and thoroughly enjoying the continued freedom as adults. Along the voyage of our skiing lives many of us get into chasing snow, terrain and challenge. This can be found in the backcountry as can a myriad of objective dangers, challenges to our psyche and our emotional control of ourselves, our partners and life. In an effort to help people enjoy the sport that we love so much we’ve gathered some important information for anyone who’s interested in enjoying backcountry skiing to keep in mind. There is NO SUBSTITUTE for education! Please never ever enter the backcountry without at the minimum taking a level 1 avalanche course, this is simply the very basics needed.
Education: The most important thing is EDUCATION! Knowledge is the very first step to enjoying the backcountry. No backcountry traveler, skier or boarder should enter the backcountry without taking an avalanche course. Here’s a few options to start out your educational process:
Equipment: Having the right equipment is second to the knowledge of how to use the equipment (and using your brain). The minimum requirement beyond education and a communicative partner is Beacon, Shovel and Probe.
Beacon – There are a variety of options, the best one is the one you know how to use and practice with regularly.
Probe – Quick and easy to assemble is key, many like the Quick Draw Tour probe from Black Diamond shown below have an easy to activate
handle allowing you to throw the probe out, pull on the handle and have it assemble in one motion.
Shovel – Assembly, strength and size. The shovel needs to fit in your pack, be easy to take in and out of the pack, assemble and most importantly move consolidated snow that resembles concrete more than the powder it once was. Ideally you are never using your shovel for anything other than digging snow pits and making snow seats, but if you really need it you need to be able to count on it’s strength.
Airbag – While education, beacon, shovel and probe are the minimums, many avid backcountry users have found value in carrying an avalanche airbag on their journeys. The idea is that an airbag when deployed will increase the buoyancy or float of someone in a slide and aid in keeping them on the surface of the snow. This won’t help with terrain such as rocks, trees and cliffs but has been shown to help in slides where there is a ‘run out’ that would allow greater chance of remaining on the surface of the snow. There are several brands making these and we personally carry in our shops and use: ABS, BCA and the new Black Diamond Jet Force. The main idea is that you’re better with one than without one; this should however never have an influence on your decision making process!
Avalung – The avalung is a popular piece of equipment. The idea is that if trapped in a slide your breath is redirected towards the rear of your body, allowing you valuable time to keep breathing while your partners find you and dig you out. This comes in a stand alone piece and is also incorporated into many packs from Black Diamond Equipment.
Conditions Report – Know before you go, avid and intelligent users of the backcountry read this report each and every day regardless if they will be entering the back country or not. Keeping tabs on what’s happening in your local snowpack from the professionals is one of the best tools to have, read it and go out and dig a pit. See if you can see what the pro’s are seeing and learn all along the way.
CAIC – Colorado Avalanche Information Center
New Mexico – Unfortunately there is no official site or report for the area.
Skis, Boots, Bindings, Splitboards and Skins – It’s essential to be able to travel uphill, across hills, on the flats and skiing downhill while traveling in the backcountry. The use and popularity of Alpine Touring bindings has increased in the past few years. This allows you to “unlock” your heel for the way up, then lock your heel for the decent. Giving you the ability to travel efficiently while skiing with power on the way down. There are may types of bindings available from alpine oriented bindings that have a tour mode to touring bindings focused on being as light an efficient as possible. This is the same with skis and boots. At BootDoctors® we carry a full array of products from light and fast to burly and heavier. Split-boards are the answer; this is what snowboarders have come up with to solve the BC travel issues. They split in two for the ascent, allowing snowboarders to “ski uphill” then reassemble for the descent. Stop by and have a conversation with us about what best fits you, your objectives and your quiver!
Remember education is the first step, learning along the way from partners who are more experienced is the next step. Know where you are going, what you are doing and who you are with. The backcountry can be a great experience, it can also be deadly. Take is seriously and give it respect!
Partners – Skiing in the backcountry alone is never a good idea. Always have a partner or more that have the proper education, skill set and equipment. Plus enjoying the experience with others is way better than alone!
Emergency Preparation – Traveling in the backcountry comes with another simple rule; always be prepared to take care of you and your partners and to provide yourselves with self-rescue whenever possible. This means carrying enough medical/first aid equipment and the knowledge of how to use the kit, as well as the ability to extract a partner if injured from the backcountry. You can’t simply pick up the phone and call EMS for an ambulance ride, you must be prepared to handle the situation on your own as a team.
In the Pack: Water, Food, First Aid, Space Blanket, Down Puffy/Extra Layers, Map & Compass (and the ability to use them), tools to allow you to package and transport an injured partner (improvisation is key here, use what you have. Take a WFR or similar course and you’ll be amazed how much you can create out of your pack and ski gear! Kevin Dunkak at CPR world in Telluride is a great resource “Kevin@cprworld.com”), 2-way radio, Cell Phone or SPOT type locater. A night out in the high alpine can be deadly without the right gear and knowledge, be prepared!
Colorado SAR Card – Colorado residents and visitors are well served by dedicated volunteer search and rescue teams, but mission costs are often in the thousands of dollars. By purchasing a CORSAR card you are contributing to the Search and Rescue Fund, which will reimburse these teams for costs incurred in your search and rescue. Funds remaining at the end of the year are used to help pay for training and equipment for these teams. Anyone with a current hunting/fishing license, or boat, snowmobile, ATV registration is already covered by the fund. Cards are available at BootDoctors® in Telluride. To learn more stop by the shop or READ MORE HERE.
Stop by any BootDoctors® to have a look at our full line of backcountry gear, pick our brains and build some stoke for your next adventure. With the right mindset, skills, tools and partners skiing in the backcountry can be a rewarding experience. Start off slow, get educated and be safe!
Other Great ways to enjoy the backcountry:
San Juan Hut Systems – A network of backcountry huts, they sleep up to 8 and are a great way to get off the beaten path.
Opus Hut- Located on the Silverton side of Ophir Pass Opus offers a european type experience in the heart of the San Juans.
Alta Lakes Observatory- Located in the Alta Lakes Basin just outside the boundaries of Telluride Ski Resort, full luxury.
High Camp Hut- Located below the flanks of Sheep Mountain on Lizard Head Pass, luxury and views at it’s finest.
Hire a Guide
Telluride Mountain Guides – Telluride based guiding service offering year round adventure.
Telluride Helitrax – Heli Skiing in the San Juans of CO.
San Juan Mountain Guides – From avalanche eduction, to ski touring, ice climbing and ski mountaineering.