Backcountry Touring Basics
These are some backcountry skiing tips we put together to help increase your safety and comfort when touring. There are many moving parts to backcountry skiing so it is important to plan and pack appropriately. Hopefully, these tips help make your next ski tour more enjoyable.
>Make a plan and tell a 3rd party
A lot can happen when exploring the backcountry, even if you know the terrain well. It is always a good idea to tell someone who is not on your trip where and when you are going somewhere. This is a solid way to make sure someone will be aware if you do not return when you planned. If you are unable to call for help, the person who knows where you are will be able to send help. If this option won’t work, another way to let others know what you are up to is leaving a not on your dashboard. This way someone walking past might take notice. Many popular backcountry ski areas have lots of traffic and there is a high chance someone will see your note.
>Food and Water
Making sure you are properly hydrated and satiated is very important for making decisions and athletic performance. Whether skinning up or skiing down, your body is burning calories. We suggest about 300 to 400 calories per hour, either liquid or solid. Usually, when touring there is more downtime which makes eating solid food much easier. This might be a good time to give your teeth and stomach a break from sugary performance food. Eating becomes even more important when you start getting cold. Once your body starts getting cold it can take a lot of calories to help bring your core temperature back to a comfortable level.
Even though you might not feel like you are parched for water like in the summer months, the dry air and your athletic effort are quickly taking moisture from your body. It is important to be conscious of this as dehydration can cause muscle cramps, headaches, fatigue, and much more. You can easily stay ahead of the curve by drinking water periodically.
>Medical kit/voile strap ( medical kit for equipment)
Bringing a medical kit can be a good way to prevent serious injuries from getting even worse. While you hopefully will never have to use anything in your medical kit, you should always have it in your bag. Here is a list of things we have in our kits:
-Ibuprofen is a supper helpful over-the-counter drug that decreases swelling and eases the pain. Whether used in emergency situations or when you get a headache, Ibuprofen is a great thing to have with you.
-Medical Tape: Super helpful in more ways than can be listed. Fix your gear or your body with medical tape.
-Iodine swabs: to clean out wounds and Neosporin packets to help prevent infection when dressing. 4″ gauze roll to put on top of the wound once cleaned.
-Extra important items:
Primacare IS-5526 Wire Mesh Splint, Zip ties, Gorilla tape, compact Multi-Tool (with bits that will work on your ski gear).
-Voile strap (or two!) While these do a good job strapping skis together, with a little creativity a voile strap can do wonders. We have even seen boots and bindings fixed with a voile strap.
>Avalanche Equipment (when in avalanche terrain) -including sharps
For anyone planning to travel into or near avalanche terrain, always bring a beacon, shovel, and probe. These are important not only for your safety but for the safety of your entire group. If you do not have proper training on how to use these tools, they are much less effective so we urge everyone to take an avalanche class. Make sure you keep your beacon batteries fresh. We try to keep our beacons above 90% charge. Your beacon should stay on your body while your probe and shovel will be in your bag. Ensuring you can quickly get to your avalanche equipment is key for emergency situations.
We strongly suggest bringing crampons and a mountaineering ax when heading into steep terrain. Most of the time, just the rubber on your boot sole is nowhere near enough grip. This is not only going to prevent you from getting injured by falling down a boot pack but will also protect those below you. Crampons generally make your boot packing much more efficient as you do not have to work as hard to kick your boot into the snowpack to obtain a solid grip. Brining a lightweight ski mountaineering ax can help ease your mind and greatly increase your safety. Remember, if your ax is out, your crampons better be on your boots. An ax is great for set arrests and securing your
Note* Crampons are NOT microspikes!
>Extra gloves and base layer
Even if you layer properly, sometimes you sweat right through your base layer. Having wet clothes directly on your skin can be bone chilling even in mild temperatures, especially so when standing still. An extra base layer is relatively lightweight compared to every other piece of gear you need to bring when backcountry skiing, so leave on in your bag at all times. While it might be cold to swap out, it will be well worth it in a few minutes when your core temperature comes back to a sustainable level.
Extra gloves are a key part to a backcountry kit. Some people like to use one pair on the up hill and one pair on the downhill. There are no rule, but having warm extremities are not only comfortable but reduce overall energy consumption. Some gloves have a wind or down covering that can be pulled out to increase warmth. If you are mountaineering and your hands are spending a lot of time in the snow and on ice, there is a good chance they are going to get wet and cold quickly. And glove change takes only seconds and will enhance your day.
Whether it's a micro puff or an expedition down jacket, it is always a good idea to pack an extra warm jacket. Your core temperature can be effected by many different things. Maybe you haven’t been sleeping or eating well or there is a lot of moister in the air. It is almost impossible to know in the parking lot how your body or the weather is going to change as you get farther up a mountain. Down jackets are getting smaller and lighter every year so it is hard to make an excuse for not leaving one in a stuff sack at the bottom of your bag. In an unfortunate situation that you need to wait for help for a prolonged period of time a down jacket is a great tool for keeping your body insulated. Taking of your your shell to sit on and putting on a down jacket can help prevent hypothermia.
>Extra set of eyewear for the uphill
While not as vital as the other items we have discussed, being able to see if quite important. A pair of sunglass will protect your eyes from the sun glare off the snow. While it might not seem super bright, when you are at high elevations the strength of the sun light is much higher. Many modern sunglasses have large lenses and work perfectly with mountaineering helmets for the ups and downs!