Things I Learned While Backcountry Skiing:

Greg Obernesser | | Featured ArticleFeatured Article
Transitioning for a long descent. Credit: BP

The following are some insights I’ve made while backcountry skiing. After writing up a conditions report on the Silver Couloir, it reminded me of the first time I tried to ski it and got horribly lost after skiing down the wrong couloir. The couloir we skied cliffed out at 130 feet and we were out on the mountain for about 11 hours. I hope this post helps you not make the same mistakes I have made in the past.

Have A Voice In The Group

Our group was an all-star cast, the types of people you would want to ski with while you are lost. I was skiing with people that worked in emergency medicine, all strong skiers, and I was the weakest link in skill sets. In retrospect, I wish I was more vocal with my lack of skills, but I wanted to fit in. There is something to be said about group think, sometimes it can lead to mental inbreeding and can create a false sense of security. Be a contrarian sometimes, it helps with perspective.


Skinning in a tight group. Credit: instagregoh

Take Your Time

While on the summit, a dense cloud rolled in and caused a temporary whiteout. The weather was calling for off and on snow showers that day. If we had waited about 30 minutes we would have seen our line better and skied the right line. Patience can turn a couloir of sheer ice into a corn harvest or a whiteout into a bluebird. Take a minute and see what the weather does.

Don’t Panic

When we figured out we were lost and stuck, I could tell who was starting to get scared. I could hear it in some of my party’s voices. Some of the initial thoughts that were proposed were out of sheer fear of the situation. Fear can cause irrational and emotional design making. Calm down, take a step back, and think emotionless.

Think Of Potential Outcomes and How To Play Them

While traveling in the backcountry, I play the “if then” game in my head. If this happens then this should happen. Constantly thinking of potential scenarios allows you to better react to events that could have been perceived as unexpected.

Skinning up towards the summit. Credit: BP

Stay In A Group

While skinning up, the group was about 100 to 200 yards in front of me. The wind had picked up and we were out of earshot. Suddenly, I felt a vibration in my stomach and a monstrous WUMPH of the snowpack dropping below my feet. There was no way they would have seen or heard me go in a slide. I’ve gone skinning with friends and it isn’t fun to be the leader or the lagging caboose. My tip is to switch it up, have the leader skin in the back and repeat. That way everyone has a chance to set a comfortable pace.

Related Articles

Got an opinion? Let us know...