Backcountry Skiing: How Well Do You Know the Forecast?

Clay Malott | BackcountryBackcountry
Avalanche forecasts are a crucial facet (no pun intended!) of backcountry skiing safety. How well do you know the forecast? Photo credit: CAIC

Brought to you by SCARPA Backcountry Week

One of the best tools we have for staying safe and making prudent decisions in the backcountry is by reading the avalanche forecast every morning before heading out. These forecasts are made by professionals who have dedicated their entire lives to keeping recreationists safe in the backcountry. It is our responsibility to understand these forecasts in order to make educated decisions to stay safe in the backcountry.

This video from the CAIC gives a great outline to understanding all the avalanche problems, which is crucial to understanding the forecast. 

Another great video where you can go in-depth about the basic physics of snow and how it contributes to avalanche risk can be found here on my YouTube channel. Understanding how avalanches work is critical in understanding risk, consequence, and overall safety in the backcountry.

I made this video explaining how to read a full avalanche forecast. It covers everything you need to do with respect to the avalanche forecast in order to have a safe day in the backcountry.

Here at SnowBrains, we prioritize safety and it would be irresponsible to finish an article about backcountry skiing without a quick word on safety. COVID makes traveling these days rather difficult, and an AIARE avalanche safety course (where you would learn in-depth about avalanche forecasts) may not be a viable option for everyone. If that case, one of the best substitutes for an AIARE course is Bruce Tremper’s book Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain. This book is widely accepted as the leading text in all-things-avalanche. While this book does not rival an official AIARE course, it is a good way to familiarize yourself with the dangers of the backcountry (and strategies to mitigate those dangers). You can order a copy of Tremper’s book here.

Backcountry Access T2 Transceiver / Shovel / Probe Rescue Package | REI Co-op
NEVER forget the three essentials of backcountry travel: beacon, shovel, and probe. Photo credit: REI

At the end of the day, the name of the game is experience. Days in the backcountry is what is going to get you the most experience and teach you the most about how to stay safe. If you’re just starting in the backcountry, a great strategy to gain knowledge is with a guide. Guides can lead you to great snow, teach you about avalanche risk, and keep you safe all at a safe time. It’s a great way to learn and have fun.

You can read more about introductory backcountry safety with this article or this four-part video series

Backcountry skiing is a super fun way to enjoy the mountains but must be done so safely. Have fun out there, and please stay safe!

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