10 Items to Bring Along if You Leave the Ski Area Boundary
The untouched slopes just outside the resort can be a great place to start backcountry skiing or boarding. Bring along these ten items if you leave the ski area this winter.
It’s hard to beat an epic pow day at your favorite resort. However, it seems that as more and more winter enthusiasts are “heading for the hills”, those untracked days just aren’t quite lasting as long as they used to. So, what do you do in the aftermath of a major morning powder panic? It’s 11 am and what looked like a bumper crop ripe for the picking just a few short hours ago, now looks as though it has been devoured by an apocalyptic swarm of powder-hungry locusts. Since DDT has been outlawed it just may be time to grab your pack, head for those backcountry gates, and keep this powder day rolling!
Backcountry, even if just a short distance from a ski resort, is still indeed the backcountry and poses significantly greater risks than what exists inbounds. Therefore, there is a base level of experience and knowledge to attain before ever stepping (or riding) out of that access gate. I strongly recommend that anyone looking to get into backcountry riding, even if accessed with a chairlift, takes an Avalanche Safety Course before ever venturing out. If you’ve taken a course, please take another and practice beacon hunts with your friends in a safe, staged area. The more you practice these avalanche rescue skills and work with the tools, the more prepared you will be if you do ever find yourself involved in an avalanche rescue. Find an avalanche training course near you.
Any out of bounds runs, even if barely off of the resort, should be approached like any other backcountry situation—with the utmost respect and preparation. I encourage avoiding common terms like “side country” and “slack country” as these terms leave the impression that they are different from, and inherently less of a risk than, the actual backcountry. The ease of access and at times close proximity to crowds does not negate or lessen the dangers involved. In fact, there are psychological factors that could actually put us at greater risk when riding just outside of the ski area as opposed to miles deep into the backcountry. A false sense of safety and security can often exist when so close to the lodge. It’s similar to the statistics regarding car accidents and how a majority of them happen close to the home. It’s easy to let the guard down in places we feel comfortable and are familiar with. Just because we may have ridden a chairlift to get there does not make it any safer and once we head out through those backcountry gates we are essentially on our own.
I would like to preface this by saying that this is a list of ten “items” to leave the resort with—tangible products you can touch, see, and purchase here with Expert help. The first three on the list, beacon, shovel, and probe are tools needed to carry out a successful avalanche burial rescue and absolutely necessary items to always have on us. We’ll call them “essential” and yes, they rarely get the credit they deserve. In addition to the essential, tangible items, there are many intangible things that are also essential to have with us. The skills to use avalanche rescue gear effectively, a general understanding of the current conditions and snowpack, or the ability to make that assessment safely, are among the many intangibles we should be bringing along as well. Always bring a buddy, or buddies, and make sure that everyone in the group has these 3 essential items for rescue and that they can use them effectively. It’s more fun to ride with friends anyway, and it is the only way to ride any backcountry terrain safely!
Always run a group beacon check, making sure beacons are turned on, set to transmit, and worn tight to your body before leaving a ski area boundary. The most common way to wear it is to use the harness that comes with the beacon. It should always be worn under your jacket—not over and definitely not in a jacket pocket. Another acceptable way, and my preferred method of wearing a beacon, is to keep it inside an adequate thigh pocket with a functioning zipper and tether. Please note that the RECCO® system is NOT a substitute for a properly functioning beacon.
The second essential is a durable, functional, and preferably lightweight, collapsible shovel. For years now I’ve used the Backcountry Access A-2 EXT Shovel with Saw. It features a mid-sized blade with a little more surface area that will move more snow faster in either recreational or rescue applications and still fits perfectly in the pack. It also features a snow saw that stores nicely inside of the shaft. Although not a legal size for professional observations (it’s 28cm, not a full 30cm), the saw helps conduct quality stability tests in the field, which is crucial in making informed terrain decisions.
A critical component to any winter backcountry riding trip is the avalanche probe. It is used to precisely locate a buried avalanche victim once a successful beacon search has been completed. A properly functioning probe and the skills to use it correctly could save a friend's life.
Having a properly fitting backpack that is in decent shape is a critical safety measure that goes way beyond comfort. The shovel and probe are kept inside of the backpack and with you whenever riding or traveling in avalanche terrain. Ideal pack volume and style can vary greatly depending on objectives, mode of travel, and location. I typically have a small to mid-sized daypack and like keeping as low a profile pack as the situation will allow.
In many cases when someone leaves the resort boundaries, they are also leaving the protection that the ski patrol provides. Patrollers work hard to both prevent accidents and respond with quick care when they occur. Once outside the ski area, we may be entirely on our own and a small first aid kit can go a long way.
I keep my compass handy in my jacket chest pocket for quick access. It’s great for getting the proper orientation of a face which helps me determine potential snow conditions. It also doubles as a super handy, low-profile scraper for getting ice off my base and edges! Plus, it’s never good to leave the ski area and not find your way back.
It is never a bad call to carry a headlamp when recreating outdoors. For me, it’s a must and I’ll usually just stash it in my first aid kit so that it will stay dry and I know where to find it. A headlamp takes up minimal space, so I never even notice it until I need it.
8. Water Bottle
H20 is liquid in its common state and cannot retain its own shape, therefore it must be held within a vessel of some sort! Luckily, great advances over the last several hundred years have brought us far past the sheep stomachs used in the days of old. Drink water to stay hydrated. Don’t eat snow, especially not yellow snow.
I’ve almost always got a pair of cheap shades thrown in the pack—something I’m not worried about scratching up, breaking, or losing for that matter. If it is longer than a few-minute hike, ditch the goggles and throw on the sunnies. Keep the fog off the gogs, protect the eyes from the skies, and send those style points TO THE MOON!
Many ski resorts this day in age offer hi-speed, mountain-wide WiFi connections, and reliable cell phone coverage. This helps make communication in the event of an emergency easy and can greatly streamline any rescue efforts if they are needed. It also allows for the instantaneous posting of selfies and POVs from our favorite powder stash directly to our social media channels. Well, let’s just be honest, this is pretty amazing! I do have my concerns for the bees, but that’s another conversation entirely. While yes, WiFi hotspots and 5G network capabilities continue to expand, there may be a point in the search for untouched slopes that the signal is lost and the live feed goes dark. If someone is severely injured in the backcountry, self-extraction can be extremely difficult and potentially dangerous, even if in close proximity to the ski area. Carrying a satellite communication device that is able to send messages and SOS alerts may be the only way to send for additional help while in the backcountry.
Now that you have gotten to peek into my pack, please do me a favor and make sure you have the backcountry essentials when going out this winter. Get the tools now and start familiarizing yourself straight away. For help, reach out to a Winter Sports Expert here on Curated—we'd be happy to answer your questions and get you set up. That way, when it’s ON and your buddies are heading for the gate, you won’t be left stuck riding the chairlift all alone.