Backcountry Skiing Tips

Planning for your backcountry skiing adventure in advance will always result in a better experience. The keys are having the proper equipment, knowing the conditions and terrain, priming the ability and fitness of the crew, and taking those moments to appreciate the sheer power of the mountain.

Going Backcountry: Take advantage of the moment

Backcountry skiing can be many things to many people. It can be as simple as throwing on a pair of touring skis and disappearing into the rolling hills and forested trails that surround us. Or it can be a full frontal assault in terrain that will not allow mistakes. (The latter is my personal preference!) Acknowledge what the backcountry means to you. Is it freedom from the lift lines or an escape into Mother Nature at her wildest, most precocious time of year? Or is it a time to test skills and explore the wild, natural side of the mountain with your friends?

Think "carefully carefree," not "careless"

The open border policies at many mountains give a far greater population of skiers and riders a chance to explore off piste (think out-of-bounds and no groomers), where skiing can be at its finest. But (a big BUT) one key element to understand is that these mountain environments are just as cold and lonely at night as they were 200 years ago.

Use the buddy system in the backcountry

You are truly on your own in these wild places. Never go backcountry skiing alone. It's prudent to file a flight plan with those you've left behind. A party of at least three is a good practice. Then there's always one person to stay with an injured skier or rider and one to go get help.

Appreciate your surroundings

As many times as I've ventured out of bounds at Mad River Glen or Stowe, and as many years as I've been skiing Tuckerman Ravine or backcountry stashes from Quebec to Utah, I remain totally awed by the vastness, natural beauty, and sheer power of the mountains. They can deliver the greatest joy and the deepest fear, all in the same trip!

Plan and know the details

When, where, how long? Once a destination is decided upon, consult guide books and maps of the area. Garner all the local knowledge available to you. Ask questions and listen actively. Know the routes, distances, difficulty, elevation gain, and exposure. Be extremely aware of snow pack and conditions. "Climb what you intend to descend" is a basic rule of thumb you should adhere to.

Always check you backcountry ski gear

Check all of it: properly tuned skis, fitted boots, performance clothing layers, climbing skins, ice axe, crampons, and appropriate backpack for all the gear you need and your trip's duration. If spending an overnight, make a hut reservation, or make sure your tent is not the one you used by the pond last summer. Also crucial, food, water, and first aid gear should all be accounted for.

Understand avalanche dangers

Remember avalanches can happen anywhere and suddenly - even in the East! Carry the proper gear and know how to use it. This can save your life and those of your partners. Classes are available through the Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School and other reputable outfitters. Avail yourself of these valuable resources and practice what you've learned.

Prepare for adventures

Hone your skills, gather your posse, and head for the hills. Seek out the experts at your local Eastern Mountain Sports shop or other knowledgeable outfitter. Make your plans, get fit, and get ready for adventure. Maybe we'll see each other high on a mountain ridge someday. I'll be the one with the big smile on my face

Know your fitness ability...and take it higher

Backcountry skiing will make you aware of muscle groups you never knew existed. Stretch now and stretch often. Go hike, mountain bike, and run. Hit the roads, paths, and the gym. Whatever you choose to do, just hit it! Cross-training never stops.

Get the right gear

And don't compromise. Educate yourself. Ask questions. Talk with your local Eastern Mountain Sports store guide about your goals and skiing abilities. Shop in-store or online at for the best backcountry skiing equipment.