I was recently asked about how accessible backcountry skiing was. From one perspective the access to terrain is remarkable easy. On the other hand the gear commitment is pretty significant.
Though having the best gear out there isn’t necessary, it has a direct correlation to the ease at which you will move through the mountains. Below is a simple guide to the gear you will need.
Required backcountry gear (directly ski related)
One of the most important pieces in your backcountry setup. A good fitting boot is the difference between a great day and a miserable one. The best piece of advice is to pick a boot that is both comfortable and has a great walk mode. I always suggest purchasing a boot with Dynafit or tech inserts as it give you flexibility as your skill progresses.
A dedicated touring ski is always the best option. This will make moving up hill with speed easier as a lighter ski means less weight on your feet. There are many binding options but opting for a TECH style binding such as a G3 Onyx will make you more efficient uphill and sacrifice very little on the way down.
You can’t go uphill without climbing skins so choosing a skin that fits your ski choice is essential. There are lots of choices and honestly each has its own virtues. I have always used G3 Skins without any problems. The key to skins is keep the glue clean and you will have many happy vertical miles in front of you.
Required safety gear
This is pretty self explanatory – it helps people find you, or you find them in the event of an avalanche. NEVER ski without it.
A burly but lightweight shovel is important as you need be able to use it but also minimize the pack weight.
This item is essential for digging snow pits finding snow depth and if necessary locate your buddy buried under the snow.
Safety gear is essential. Going touring without safety gear is both irresponsible and dangerous. Never leave home without it. Just the basic gear mentioned above will run you almost $2300. Which in the grand scheme of things is about the same as a pass at Whistler but a pretty big pill to swallow and the above assumes that you have all the other associated gear (pack, clothing, etc). If you were starting from scratch with no gear the gear list gets more involved.
The nice-to-have gear – which will soon become the need-to-have gear
- Pack (Daypack: $125, Weekend pack: $200, Avalanche Airbag Pack: $1000)
You’ll quickly notice a ski-specific pack is ideal to separate gear
- Goretex Jacket ($400)
Burly Goretex is great, a lighter weight jacket will be easier to carry
- Softshell Jacket ($300)
Unless it’s raining or you’re in a blizzard, this is the most ideal item to wear. Light protection from the elements and very breathable during high activity and sweating.
- Softshell Pants ($200)
See above. Hiking 1500m of vertical, no matter how cold outside will make you break a sweat.
- Insulating layers ($150)
For night trips a big puffy jacket is ideal. For day trips, a lighter weight puffy is perfect.
- Long underwear ($125)
Merino not only feels great, your fellow campers and tent companion will appreciate the absence of stink
- Gloves ($150)
Some people prefer a lighter glove for the uphill and a thicker/warmer glove for the downhill. So multiply that cost by at least 1.5
- GPS ($200-$300)
Of course, helps navigate the mountains, but also can mark and identify your up-track positions and downhill ski runs
So now your bill is well up to over $3500 and add onto that the avalanche safety course you are looking at a minimum of $4000. Don’t have a heart attack just yet. It is possible to find used gear in good condition, and hopefully if you’re an outdoor enthusiast you probably have some of the items already. But regardless it is still a multi-thousand dollar investment just to get started.
I feel sometimes there is a misconception that every backcountry run is filled with perfect powder and sunshine. It’s taken us 6 years to have our gear, technique (uphill and down), and favourite destinations dialed in. Not to mention finding the right group of people who are technically able, knowledgeable, and compatible. For every great day of ski touring, we’ve had at least 3 days of getting stiff-armed (icy conditions, bad weather, detours in unfamiliar terrain, off-feeling days).
In the beginning most of your time is spent bashing in the bushes, slipping on skin tracks, and skiing crap snow. Occasionally you get lucky and after a while you learn the tricks. After that, the untracked world is yours. But it isn’t free and it will cost you a lot of money to get there. But man is it worth it for tracks like these…