5 Tips To Prevent A Mistake While Riding Out Of BoundsPublished on 10/26/2020 · 7 min readA mistake can be costly in the backcountry, so read on to find out how to avoid common mistakes and stay safe!
If you love to ski and you love the feeling of being the first one to drop into a line stacked with fresh snow, chances are you often set your sights on something outside the boundary of the ski resort. The mountains have so much to offer skiers and snowboarders out of the reach of chairlifts and crowds, and it can be downright impossible to resist the draw of untouched powder. That being said, the world outside the resort can be challenging, dangerous, and difficult to navigate.
Still not dissuaded? I didn’t think so. In that case, let’s talk tips and tricks for making sure you’re safe and ensuring you don’t make a costly mistake.
1. Educate Yourself
Arguably the most important piece of gear to keep you safe in the backcountry is not a physical piece of gear at all. It’s your brain. Being equipped with the right knowledge and the right set of mental tools can make the ultimate difference when it comes to dealing with high-stakes situations.
Luckily, there are an incredible amount of resources for skiers and riders to take advantage of when prepping to head out of bounds. AIARE, or the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education, is without a doubt the number one educational resource for anyone wanting to recreate in or near avalanche terrain. The AIARE 1 course offered by many organisations in mountain communities offers a comprehensive framework for being safe and knowledgeable while traveling in avalanche terrain. From scouting and analyzing terrain and conditions to being proficient in companion rescue in emergency situations, this course will cover everything the recreational user will need to start exploring the backcountry.
2. Bring The Right Equipment
Moving on from the mental tools you should bring with you out of bounds, let’s run through some of the physical tools that should accompany you on snow. The gear you have in your backpack (which should ideally be a ski- or snowboard-specific pack) are your only resources while you’re in the mountains, and your first line of defense for dealing with unforeseen obstacles. First off, the Big 3 of avalanche safety gear: a beacon, a shovel, and a probe.
A beacon is an emergency transceiver meant to both send and receive radio frequencies. In the event that you, or someone you’re with becomes buried in an avalanche, a beacon will allow you to search for a buried skier or allow others to search for you. There are tons of different beacons on the market, and they are one part of your kit that should be practiced with extensively to ensure familiarity and comfort when using it.
An avalanche shovel will be lightweight and packable to fit in your backpack, and is important for several things. In conjunction with your beacon, a shovel is a must-have in the event that you need to dig someone out who has been buried. Beyond that, shovels are necessary for analyzing the snow via digging snow pits, surveying cornices, and any number of other things that might require you to move some snow around.
A probe is essentially a collapsible pole that is used to find a buried person once they’ve been located with a beacon. Similar to a tent pole, a probe can be unfolded and pulled taught to allow you to figure out where to dig for a buried skier. Again, this is something that should be practiced extensively, as it could mean the difference between a close call and a deadly accident.
Though these three items are the most important things to have with you in the backcountry, there’s no shortage of other things that are helpful to have with you. Always bring enough food and water, extra layers, and eye protection. For a more comprehensive list, check out this guide from expert Bobby Chadderton.
3. Ski With A Group
Skiing with friends is always fun, but when it comes to skiing out of bounds it’s also much safer. Having multiple sets of eyes to assess a situation can help you see things you might otherwise have missed, and having other people to discuss plans and thoughts will ensure you don’t make a costly decision too quickly.
When putting your group together, it’s important to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to safety, techniques, and level of comfortability with the terrain and conditions. Sit down before heading out, talk through plans, and make sure everyone knows what to do should an emergency situation arise.
Additionally, use having a group to your advantage. Have someone help you scout a feature from different angles, ask each other questions and learn from different experiences, and take the opportunity to share your knowledge with the people around you.
4. Analyze The Conditions
One of the biggest mistakes that you can make when skiing outside the resort is not gauging snow conditions correctly. It’s always frustrating when your favorite zone is closed on a pow day at the resort, but there’s always good reasons for it. If the snow is unstable or the conditions haven’t been assessed by ski patrol, it’s safe to assume the general public won’t take the proper precautions before diving into a line that looks good from above.
It’s extremely important to keep in mind that this doesn’t just apply to backcountry peaks you’re accessing via a skin track. This applies to the sidecountry you’re accessing by ducking a boundry line at the resort, and even the more aggressive terrain you might be able to hike to while you’re still technically in-bounds.
While it’s always good to have someone else looking out for you, trust your own assessment first and foremost. It may have just dumped three feet of blower snow the night before, but take other factors into consideration as well. Maybe yesterday night it rained and froze, meaning that underneath all that fresh snow is a layer of bulletproof ice. Take a look at your surroundings, if you’re in a gully without a tree in sight, that probably means the area is ripe for avalanches. Assess whether or not the slope you’re on has been sitting in the sun or not. All of these factors go into determining if something is safe to ski, no matter where you happen to be.
5. Scout Your Line
This one may seem a little bit obvious, but it’s easily one of the most common mistakes people make skiing when something new. If you’re approaching a new zone from below, take the time to stop and scout your line from underneath. Take note of where the no-fall zones are, where sneaky cliffs and other features might be hard to see from above, and plan your runout if you might be picking up speed.
Going back to utilizing the people you’re with, have someone else help you look at it from different angles. If someone skis it before you, have them call back to you to tell you what it was like, if the cliff you want to hit looks good etc. Also, try to stick to your plan once you’ve made it. It’s easy to get carried away skiing amazing snow and accidentally drop too far down into a gully, or ski over the wrong side of a ridge and get stuck hiking all the way back up.
All of these things are great to keep in mind, but make up only a small portion of the world of backcountry skiing and snowboarding. These are great tips for someone new to getting outside the resort, and are awesome to practice in short trips out of bounds into the sidecountry and like I said previously, even inside the resort itself. There’s always more to learn about being in the mountains, and it’s definitely not just about safety. Learning more about what makes terrain accessible to us, and why snow behaves the way it does opens the door to being more connected to the sports we love.
If you’re someone who wants to start branching out into the world of backcountry skiing, my best recommendation is to start consuming information anywhere you can get it. Check out this guide from Connor Hult for a bit more in-depth dive into beginner backcountry tips for skiers and this guide from Bobby Chadderton for tips for snowboarders. Find out what resources are available in your area, talk to your friends, and reach out to our experts on Curated! We are all stoked to share what we know, and love getting people out on snow.