Backcountry riding trending to the mainstream – Is this a good thing?

By January 23, 2012 Ski More No Comments

I have been working in the outdoor industry for over 10 years and witnessed many trends come and go. I admit, even I was a part of the whole freeride mountain bike craziness circa 2000. There have been great sporting goods companies to have risen to success and also unfortunately fall to failure.

If you can believe it, there was also a time when the ski industry was in trouble. Now, it’s booming like never before extending outside of resort boundaries into the backcountry. So what’s changed and what’s to come?

The quest for epic powder has always been a privilege of a select few people. Either those who were willing to put in hard work physically or those who had lots of money to pour into heli-skiing. Backcountry riding (either skiing or splitboarding) was once the realm of a select few, limited by lack of equipment, knowledge and access.

But the internet has made a big difference in the knowledge-sharing realm. Blogs, forums, online discussions and (one of my favourite tools) Google Earth, has propelled the amount of information on ski locations making it easily available to learn about new terrain.

Gear – Cheaper and more mainstream vendors
Evolution of equipment has no doubt fuelled the influx of users. Early rise tips, rockered skis and snowboards have made skiing deep snow much easier. Ski technology has made the learning curve easier for newbies to the sport, changing so much that the Canadian Ski Instructors Association has adapted traditional teaching techniques to accommodate new skis.

Backcountry ski gear has emerged into the main stream. Industry leading vendors such as Salomon, Atomic, Head, Marker have each introduced new touring style bindings spurring a technological arms race with traditional vendors such as Dynafit, Black Diamond, Garmont and Scarpa. Stronger, stiffer, easier to use and lighter equipment, more accessible than ever for the masses is pushing participation to new heights.

On the snowboard side, splitboard technology remains pretty constant with a few vendors pushing the limits in board construction, bindings and boots. Increased market acceptance will only drive innovation. We have seen new entrants such as G3 using their skin technology and porting it to splitboarding.

It still remains to be seen what will come from the splitboarding side as there are still far more skiers then snowboarders in the backcountry. But what is clear is increased participation will fuel more money into development coming from major industry players undoubtedly creating long and short term challenges for the smaller first-to-market companies.

Into the media
When TGR launched Deeper, their self propelled chronicle of Jeremy Jones, it was clear that splitboarding was trending into the mainstream. Images of steep powder-filled riding, accessible on foot has prompted a new generation to enter into the realm of snow freedom. Doubling the effect we have seen major segments in All.I.Can and a complete movie about back country pursuits Solitaire. One of the most respected free riders in the industry Eric Hjorleifson is now sponsored by Dynafit providing even more support of the growth of self propelled skiing.

Those of us who have been earning our turns for a while can attest to the amount of traffic in the once seldom travelled zones. Let’s face it, lift tickets aren’t getting any cheaper. I don’t see this as a problem but more of challenge to expand my reach to explore new areas. The best benefit of all, better gear will most certainly improve the backcountry experience. As much as some people will resist it, skiing the backcountry is trendy right now! Have fun, be safe and don’t be hesitant to help those which are less experienced – everyone needs to learn about backcountry travel and safety. You were probably a newbie one day too.

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