How do you do that? As any backcountry skier worth their salt will tell you, the first backcountry investment is a three part combo: “beacon-shovel-probe.” What does that mean you ask? Here let me explain.
First off, avalanche beacons are radio transceivers you strap under you coat so that in the event of avalanche engulfment, buried you may be located underneath the snow by rescuers on the surface. You will need a beacon that can both receive and transmit a signal so that in addition to being found, you may also help to rescue a less fortunate friend who has been swallowed by cascading snowpack. While you should take AIARE Level One course or come down to Argentina this summer to understand how your beacon works, for now just know that you will need to own a beacon if you want to hit the backcountry. Check out Back Country Access (BCA) for more information on quality avalanche beacons.
Anyway let’s say in the event of avalanche, you have located the signal of your buried friend with your trusty avalanche beacon, but they are still buried under anywhere from one to ten feet of snow. This is why you must also carry a probe and shovel if you’re heading to the backcountry – to locate the exact location of your friend and then dig through the snow that is suffocating the trapped backcountry skier. Use the probe after you pinpoint the signal from your buried friend on the surface to find out exactly where and how deep your friend is buried. When it comes to shovels make sure you have something sturdy that can move up thousands of pounds of snow without breaking. Plastic shovels, while lighter than metal, are not advisable because plastic may break under duress, therefore screwing your friend. Bring a metal shovel that can be assembled on spot and learn digging techniques so that you may uncover your unfortunate friend as fast as possible.
In addition to avalanche safety gear, unless you are versed in telemark technique, you will want an All-Terrain (AT) bindings and boots so that you may unlock your heals for the ascent and clamp them down when it’s time to shred the gnar. The decks, while hopefully light for an easier ascent, should be beefy enough to handle steep terrain in all conditions – especially powder!
Backcountry snowboarders will need a split board with base plates to attach your bindings. In Argentina this summer, SGT’s very own Tony Pavlantos will be teaching courses on how to build your very own split board.
To ascend the slop you will need to invest in skins so that gravity does not slide you down the hill backwards when you try to take a step up. Imagine skins as a strip of deer hide you glue to the bottom of your ski. The hairs all smooth down when moving forward but will stick in the snow, stopping your descent, if the ski tries to go backward. In backcountry skiing, a good pair of skins are definitely your friends.
To carry all this stuff, you will need a backcountry backpack. Maybe you feel like getting all fancy and purchase a BCA float air bag that can be inflated from your backpack in case of avalanche, hopefully keeping the skier closer to the surface of the snow debris. Otherwise, just make sure you have backpack that can carry: beacon, shovel, probe, layers, food, water, and a place to strap your skis. You will want sunglasses in addition to your goggles that tend to fog up when you’re sweating it out on the ascent. With all these things you should be set.
Let’s recap what you need to make the leap from resort skiing to backcountry:
- All Terrain / telemark/ splitboard set up
- Backcountry skiing appropriate backpack
- Food, water, sunscreen, sunglasses, goggles, knife, warm layers, hats, flashlight, duct tape, toilet paper, etc.