Backcountry skiing and snowboarding is an amazing way to experience the out of doors in a totally new winter environment. Travelling on busy summer trails now quiet and covered with a blanket of fresh Sierra snow can transform a mundane path into a winter wonderland of tall drifts and smooth angles. Having a good time in the mountainous winter backcountry inevitably includes having the knowledge to keep you and your group safe. Here are some basics to get you started in backcountry skiing and snowboarding.
Get the Knowledge
Dive in to the local backcountry touring community. Our local scene hosts an amazing amount of awesome resources available to educate all of us on the state of the backcountry and our local winter environment. From free lectures, ski movies, and gear shops, to avalanche classes and guided trips our community is truly littered with opportunities to learn more about how to get into the backcountry skiing and snowboarding culture. …And most importantly – take an avalanche class! Find one that fits your schedule, sign up, and do it!
Rent Some Gear
A common misconception is that you need thousands of dollars of gear to get into backcountry skiing or snowboarding. While the gear can be expensive, the most important first step is getting the knowledge. You can easily sign up for an avalanche class, then rent some gear, and decide what type of equipment suits you and your needs best. Each year there are more and more backcountry specific skis, bindings and boots making it more and more difficult to find the one set quiver, so try them all out! Some shops will even let you apply the cost of your rental to a future purchase if you decide to pull the trigger. There’s currently a promotional deal at Tahoe Sports Hub where, with the purchase of $1000 of backcountry gear they offer “an introduction to the equipment, backcountry touring basics, and the importance of avalanche awareness and education” class through a partnership with Alpenglow Expeditions.
Learn Local Hotspots
Go to lectures; get your level 1 avalanche certification. Look at local maps and learn where the local backcountry skiing happens. Learn the elevations and aspects. Learn how to see when the conditions are all changing to make the avalanche hazard better or worse. Watch how the weather changes the landscape over time. Learn to see a whole new side to your neighborhood, community and home.
Find An Experienced Crew
Expand your social network and find those friends who get after it in the Tahoe backcountry. Meet people through avalanche classes – knowing they care about knowledge, safety and doing it right, just like you do! Look out for each other and practice all the skills you learn.
Consider a Guided Day or Multi Day Trip
Think about getting your avalanche certification and taking a guided ski trip to a hut or the backcountry. Why not benefit from the know-how and experience of a Tahoe guide to really hone your powder experience?
Here are some local resources to keep learning more:
Tahoe Mountain School
About the author: Ben Hogan is a Truckee-based backcountry skier with nearly 20 years of experience and is a former Alpine Meadows Ski Patroller. He is a freelance adventure writer, a physician assistant and author of www.manystepsmakemountains.com.