This post first appeared on the Tahoe Backcountry Alliance website and is reproduced with permission
Been skiing in the backcountry for years, but always relied on your friends for information? Are you an expert skier who’s never ventured outside the boundary? Want to avoid the resorts, but have never skied powder before? Whatever the reason, don’t go without training and knowledge. We put together these tips to help you be prepared and informed.
Get educated – If you really want to get into the backcountry, you need to take a class. Avalanche centers, guides, Sierra Avalanche Center, avtraining.org, and avalanche.org are all good places to seek education.
Get your friends educated – Make sure everyone in your party has taken an AIARE Avy 1 and Avy Rescue course. Does your group have the skills to safely recreate and self-rescue should something go wrong? Seems obvious, but do you know if everyone in your group can ski in variable terrain and deep pow?
Prepare to be self-reliant – Bring the equipment and skills you need to take care of yourself and your party in the event of gear malfunction, accident, or an emergency. This includes Wilderness First Aid Skills.
Check the weather and avalanche forecast and plan accordingly – Plan your trip in advance; let somebody know where your group is headed. Does the weather look good where you’re going? Will conditions change while you’re out there? Check the sierraavalanchecenter.org for the avy forecast every day.
Be safe – Follow safe backcountry travel protocol, do a beacon check before you enter avalanche terrain, make snowpack observations, know your group’s limits, don’t ski directly above or below parties in avalanche terrain. Be prepared to adjust your expectations and plans for the day when conditions change.
Be respectful – Pack out your trash, control your dog, limit loud music and excessive noise, and think about where you go to the bathroom.
Be courteous going uphill – Set an efficient, user-friendly, and safe skin track. If there’s already a safe, established skin track, don’t create new, unnecessary routes to the same destination. Please don’t boot in the skin track and try to build a skin track around (rather than in) the descent line (if it is safe to do so).
Be safe going uphill – Ascend single file, yield to downhill traffic, control your dog, give people space, wear a headlamp for visibility if it’s dark, avoid travel near cliffs, in gullies, or in terrain where a downhill skier can’t see you.
Observe closures and backcountry access rules – Each forest, state park, or wilderness zone may have their own rules and regulations. Educate yourself about the zone you are headed into. Be especially aware of avalanche control work on roadways and in and around ski areas.
Practice – Find safe places to hone your skills before heading into bigger terrain. Practice with your avalanche transceiver multiple times, work on your skinning (and skiing) technique, build fitness, and test out your gear before you head out into the backcountry. Meadows are great practice zones.
Think before you park – Should you park parallel, angled, or perpendicular to fit more cars? Park as close as safely and reasonably possible to other vehicles in order to maximize the number of parking spots. Don’t park on private property, don’t park in zones that haven’t been plowed yet, and be prepared to dig out a spot beyond the plow line. Know the local regulations and avoid disturbing residents.
Keep COVID-19 in mind – Be mindful and practice good pandemic etiquette. Please don’t create crowds on summits or parking lots, and if you’re sick, stay home. For more pandemic-specific info for the backcountry, check out TBA’s “Backcountry Safety During COVID-19”.
Tahoe has an amazing abundance of world-class backcountry skiing. It’s up to each of us to be good stewards to protect the resource to ensure its quality and access for seasons to come.
More tips on getting into the backcountry:
“How To Become A Backcountry Skier”, Blackbird Mountain Guides
“Know Before You Go”, Utah Avalanche Center – 15 min educational video