There’s nothing quite like skiing or snowboarding in the backcountry. You don’t need an expensive lift ticket, there are no lines, and the particular silence of snow-covered wilderness is enchanting. The tradeoff is the hard work it takes to get up the mountain on your own, and not having the ski patrol on hand for emergencies.
Always check the avalanche report (and know how to read it) before heading to the backcountry, and carry avalanche safety gear at all times. If you’re new to backcountry skiing, many REI stores offer free intro and avalanche safety classes.
Meanwhile, here are a few hacks and tips we pulled together to make your experience in the backcountry a little bit easier. Have fun!
Five Quick Pro Tips
1. Nobody Likes a Foggy Goggle
The best way to spot a rookie is before you even leave the parking lot. Those newer to the backcountry will often attempt to hike with their goggles pushed up on their foreheads. Within 10 feet, those goggles will be nicely fogged up. The goggle pocket in your jacket is a better place to carry them. Better yet, wrap a paper towel or some tissue paper around your goggles before you stash them. The paper will absorb any moisture, keeping your goggles fog-free.
2. Show Your Poles Who’s Boss
When traversing with adjustable poles, you’ll want the hillside pole to be shorter than the other. Choke up on the pole and use bike bar tape to hold it in place and prevent it from adjusting on its own.
3. Do Your Teeth a Favor
Ever tried to bite into a frozen energy bar? Yikes. Keep a bar warm in your glove, placed along your wrist, while you hike up. That way, when you get to top and take a bite, you won’t break your teeth off.
4. Four Gloves Are Better than Two
Some people wear their ski gloves when traversing, and that usually makes for sweaty hands. Try using two sets of gloves: bike gloves for ascending, and ski gloves for descending. You’ll have mastered a very simple trick to make the trek up more comfortable.
5. Pack the Puffy
You definitely don’t want to hike up the hill with a puffy jacket on. You’ll get overheated in a flash. But you do want to keep that warmth on hand for the transition between climbing and skiing. Bring your puffy and pack it up top, where you can reach it easily.
Seven Easy Backcountry Hacks
1. Rock the Ski Straps
Polyurethane ski straps are stretchy, durable little gizmos that hold your skis together, but they come in handy for a lot of other things, too. If your skins lose their stick and start to fall off, you can wrap a strap around the skin and ski to hold them together. If your adjustable pole won’t stay put where you’ve locked it, you can wrap a strap around the pole to keep it in place. If a buckle breaks on your ski boot, you can interlock two ski straps and wrap them around your boot. The options are endless. Keep a few in your back pocket and you’ll be ready for anything.
2. Wax On, Wax Off
You probably wax the bottom of your skis at the beginning of the season, right? Try waxing the top, too. Liquid wax on the top sheet of your skis will keep excess snow from building up on them when you’re out in the backcountry. It’ll make skinning your way up a lot easier!
3. Hack the CamelBak
If you tour with a CamelBak, you know that water tends to freeze in the hose. One trick is to blow into the tube after drinking in order to clear the water out before it freezes. Another is to put sugar or a little bit of whiskey in the water to keep it from freezing.
4. Some Cush for Your Tush
If you tend to skin up the hill faster than your friends, you’re probably used to sitting in the snow. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a cushy, warm seat while you wait? Take a cheap blue foam pad and cut it to the dimension of your backpack. On your way up it will add some rigidity to your pack, and at the top it’ll give you something to sit on.
5. Warm Hands, Warm Other Stuff
Ah, hand warmers. They keep your fingers and toes cozy, but they’re great for other stuff, too. Put one in a sock or pouch with your cellphone or GPS receiver, and it’ll extend your battery life in the cold. Drop one in each of your ski boots for the drive up to the mountain, and you’ll have toasty warm boots to start your day with. Then put those same hand warmers in your shoes, so you’ll be just as cozy on the drive down. You can also use hand warmers to keep your goggles from fogging. (Desiccant works great for that, too!)
6. Happy Carpool, Happy You
If your ski boots tend to get a bit smelly, put a dryer sheet or a tea bag in them for the drive up and down the mountain to keep from stinking up the carpool.
7. A Very Thin Skin
When your skins start to fail because they’ve collected too much dirt or pet hair, you might not have to discard them yet. Try this trick first: Put paper over the skins and iron it. Then peel off the paper. A thin layer of the skin should come off with the paper, along with the gunk that was stuck to it. It’s a good way to preserve your skins without having to re-glue them.