Learning to Backcountry Ski – Part 1: Gearing Up

I have been putting off learning to backcountry ski, waiting for the time to be right, waiting for the right day, waiting and waiting...excuses! All excuses. I’m done with waiting and using work, relationships and other ‘commitments’ as excuses, so this winter I’m doing it!

Over the last few years, more and more of my friends have taken to the backcountry, coming back glowing and raving about new lines and awesome runs. I want in!

Disclosure: There are some affiliate links below, for which commissions are paid, but these are all products I highly recommend. I won’t put anything on this page that I haven’t verified and/or personally used.

I am learning to backcountry ski!

Skills Assessment

I know I can learn to backcountry ski, I have been alpine skiing and snowboarding now for 10 years plus off trail cross country skiing for 8 years, as well as snowshoeing and hiking. I am not afraid of hard work. I can climb mountains in Newfoundland. I have assisted teaching “Intro to Avalanche” safety training courses and have my wilderness first aid. The broad skills are there, I have to overcome my bad habit of stopping myself from doing what I want to do!

Now I need to refine these skills and apply them to this new context: Newfoundland mountains in winter + skinning + off trail alpine style skiing. Should be interesting!

Where do I start?

The same place I always start when I learn something new, I read. 

Books, blogs, magazines - whatever I can get my hands on!

Timeless books like Freedom of the Hills by The Mountaineers, Backcountry Skiing: Skills for Ski Touring and Ski Mountaineering by Martin Volken and Allen & Mike's Really Cool Backcountry Ski Book: Traveling & Camping Skills For A Winter Environment by Allen O'Bannon and Mike Clelland are my current resources.  Two of these three books I already own from the college days, and I ordered the Backcountry Skiing: Skills for Ski Touring and Ski Mountaineering book for my kindle app from amazon and am learning lots!

I am also asking my friends lots of questions and reading tons of gear reviews!

Newly Learnt Tip

Wear your transceiver on top of your next to skin layer, so as you and the day warm up, you never have to take it off! For me, this is a tank top. For seasoned backcountry skiing veterans, this might be a no brainer, but it’s simple tips like this that are not inherent when you’re learning.

What do I need for gear?

I am beginning to acquire the sport specific gearas I find a good deal or finally settle on a decision:

  • skins
  • special binding/adapters
  • pack
  • probe
  • shovel
  • transceiver/beacon 

So far, I have aquired a pair of trekkers which will allow my alpine boots and bindings the movement needed to skin and climb uphill. They certainly make my set up heavier, but for a season or two until I know for sure I love this sport, I’ll make due.

I just recently acquired some used skins (yes, I checked the glue!) and for a fraction of the regular cost, I will again make due with skins that just fit my alpine skis.

I am getting the Osprey Kresta 30 Backpack as my pack for backcountry ski adventures. It has some great sport specific features such as: mitt friendly zipper pulls, multiple ski carry options, avy gear pockets and Ospreys great harness system (which I already love)! Thanks to Jamie for the recommendation to go with the 30 litre - I always overpack...

All that’s left is probe, shovel and transceiver...so feedback and suggestions are welcome! More research still to be done and decisions to be made. I am getting pretty excited for my next visit to MEC in Ottawa, to complete the setup when I head home at some point over the next couple months.

Learning to backcountry ski

Now, to perform a snow dance!

Comments & Suggestions Welcome!

Feel free to share gear suggestions, backcountry ski tips, route ideas or whatever else you think I should know in the comments below!

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