The 2020-21 ski season is going to be unique for reasons I need not explain. Many of you (myself included) are planning on spending a lot more time in the backcountry than usual.
For even the most seasoned resort skier or rider, venturing outside the ropes can be a scary leap. First, there’s all the new gear you need to buy and learn how to use. Then, you need to figure out where to go, what to bring, what to wear, and of course, you have the whole avalanches thing to worry about. There’s plenty of room for rookie mistakes to ruin the day.
The fastest way to learn the ropes is from a knowledgeable backcountry skier, but breaking into ski circles can be tough. Nobody wants to drag around the new guy who’s a total mess. That’s why Alpenglow Expeditions (the only AMGA accredited guide service in NorCal) is launching “The Backcountry Series.” It’s a three-part course that will take you from rookie to backcountry pro under the wing of certified mountain guides.
Backcountry 1.0 is first in the trio and caters to those that are good skiers or riders but have no experience outside the resort. Topics like backcountry and avalanche equipment, clothing choices, and safe uphill and downhill travel practices will be the bulk of the day. This isn’t an avalanche course, but your guide will touch on how to interpret your local avalanche advisory, as well as how to recognize and avoid hazards in the field. You should walk away feeling knowledgeable and confident enough to start ski touring on your own.
As a side note – taking an AIARE 1.0 avalanche course would be a great next step (also available through Alpenglow Expeditions) to keep you and others safe.
Now that you’ve learned the basics and have some Avy-savvy, Backcountry 2.0 will teach you how to plan and execute a legit ski tour. You’ll build upon what you learned in Backcountry 1.0 with additional travel techniques, avalanche safety, and group management skills in more complex terrain. After this 1-day course, you’ll feel ready to have a safe and enjoyable season of earning your turns. Now it’s on you to get out and practice.
This whole progression could be done in one season, but ideally, you’d gain experience on your own and pick back up in the winter of 2021-’22. An AIARE 2.0 course would be the logical next step to really put the pieces of the avalanche puzzle together.
You’ve got your avalanche level 2, and are competent traveling in the backcountry, so it might be time to step up your game into bigger lines. Backcountry 3.0 will introduce you to the world of ski mountaineering and the use of tools like ice axes, crampons, and ropes for accessing steeper terrain. Whether you’re after pinner couloirs or big mountain summits, you’ll learn the skills you need to chase turns later into the spring than ever before.
All three courses will take place in the North Lake Tahoe area and have multiple date options over the course of the winter. Groups will be small (a max of 6 people to 1 guide), the entire course will be outdoors, and all Covid precautions will be taken. Of course, there’s always the option to book your own private day tour with Alpenglow Expeditions, which doesn’t cost much more than a day ticket at the resort.
If you’ve been thinking about getting into the backcountry, this is the season to finally do it. Now with the Alpenglow Expeditions Backcountry Series, you have one less excuse.