BACKCOUNTRY TOURING - KNOW BEFORE YOU GO AND
BE PREPARED WITH THE RIGHT GEAR
More and more skiers and riders are heading into the backcountry. As you prepare for your backcountry skiing trip, it’s important to know that you are equipped with the right tools and knowledge. There are several options for backcountry accessories, so we’ve put together a guide to help you determine which ones are right for you.
We encourage EVERYONE to seek the proper education, guidance and gear when heading into the backcountry. Our favorite resource is NORTHWEST AVALANCHE CENTER. NWAC.US
Whether you ski, snowboard, snowshoe, or snowmobile recognition of avalanche danger is an essential skill. Know how to access avalanche and mountain weather forecasts and recognize basic signs of avalanche danger.
Northwest Avalanche Center
NEW – Weather forecasts are now at the bottom of every avalanche forecast and are updated @ 7 am and 2 pm. Learn more about the zone name changes.
Check out the latest Conditions Blog, a regional summary of snow and avalanche conditions every Thursday at 6 pm and available in every avalanche forecast.
Become a member of NWAC here, learn how to volunteer or ask about their Youth Ambassador program.
If you are heading into the backcountry, and plan to ascend uphill on your skis, your bindings will need a touring feature. This style of binding allows the heel to have a release setting so your heel can move freely and you can climb uphill.
Think cross country skis - you can move forward on flat surfaces, and uphill with climbing skins (more in those below). When it comes time to go downhill, you switch them to lock your heel down. These tend to perform like a pair of alpine ski bindings for downhill. There are several great options for ski touring bindings, but you need to make sure your binding choice is compatible with your ski boots.
Climbing skins are essential for making the trek uphill. Climbing skins stick to the bottom of your skis using clips and adhesive. They allow you to move up the hill without sliding backward. Make sure to get the right skins for your touring area. Snow in the Pacific NW works best with a nylon plush material.
A lot of skins have clips that will accommodate any ski, but more and more skins are coming on the scene that are designed to fit specific ski or splitboard models. If you can’t find skins that fit your skis, you can opt for oversized skins that can be trimmed to size.
Splitboards are snowboards that are designed to split in half and allow up hill accents similar to a pair of skis. You attach Climbing Skins to the bottom of you split board “skis,” and ascend uphill just like you would on a pair of backcountry skis.
To use a splitboard you will need a pair of splitboard touring bindings which have a hinge to allow your heel to lift when climbing up hill like ski touring bindings. Once you reach the top, you can then remove your skins, connect your splitboard back together, and relocate your bindings, this creates a snowboard, and now you are ready to shred that sweet sweet pow.
You’ll need a backpack to carry your essentials. In case of an emergency, you’ll want quick access to your avalanche rescue tools. You’ll also want to ensure there’s enough room to extra goggles, gloves, food, and water. Some packs come with hydration system or a freezeproof hydration sleeve.
If you know you’re heading near a zone that is avalanche prone, consider getting a backpack with added survival features such as a backpack with a deployable airbag system. These deployable air bags help riders float on top of an avalanche slide, so they won’t get buried. These airbags also protect the user’s head and neck. They do not guarantee safety, but are an extra layer of protection.
Made of aluminum, avalanche shovels are small but mighty. The collapsible shovel fits in your backpack. Shovels have options when it comes to blades size. Larger blades are harder to manage but will move more snow. So, if you don’t think you’ll have the muscle power or energy to move large amounts of snow, opt for a smaller blade that will provide more maneuverability.
A metal rod used to probe through avalanche debris for buried victims. Collapsible probes assemble quickly, they’re longer and they slide through the snow much more easily than ski pole probes. Finally they are very lightweight and compact in your backpack.
Avalanche transceiver (commonly referred to as a beacon): These are small electronic devices worn on the body to help you quickly locate someone who has been buried in an avalanche. Transceivers can both send and receive radio signals, so if someone gets buried, other members of the group switch their beacons to “receive” mode to find the signal of the avalanche victim. See more on Avalanche.org
Rescue time for 1 person with a 1 meter burial depth
15 min: PIEPS-transceiver, shovel and probe
26 min: PIEPS-transceiver and shovel
59 min: PIEPS-transceiver