Backcountry Shredding 101: The FUNdamentals

Another winter season has come along and I can’t help notice the increased popularity to venture outside the resort boundary lines and shred in the backcountry. I took my very first avalanche safety course 6 years ago, and couldn’t believe how hard it was to find someone even interested in the idea of signing-up and taking an AST 1 with me. Now, it seems like everyone has their AST 1, the gear and a super keen interest of getting out in the back woods to find the untouched pow!

AST 1 @ Fortress Mountain (December 2013)

My general feeling during my first few seasons in the backcountry was the fear of getting caught in an avalanche every time I sent down a line. That could have also been that I didn’t feel comfortable about who I was with, and my lack of experience or confidence at the time. It’s definitely become a humbling sport to tackle over the years and I learn more and more every season in order to progress as a rider.

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West Nile (April 2014)

It’s been pretty incredible to see in the more recents years how much information and collected data has become available to the public in this industry. I can remember my first few seasons feeling completely lost of where to go, what routes to tackle with my lack of experience, not knowing what the snowpack was like around most general areas in western Canada, and the biggest struggle.. finding people to go with! Now with a quick 30 second browse on my Avalanche Canada App I can get a general idea of what’s happening out there before even having to asking anyone what the conditions are like. With all the available information both online, in books and in published journals, it’s really put a positive impact towards getting out in the backcountry and that you can have an amazing day wherever you go by knowing what’s good to ski, what the general snowpack is like out there and what objectives to avoid.

Crowfoot Glades (December 2015)

Regardless of whether you use the information available or not before heading out, skiing in the backcountry is becoming one of the most popular winter trends to add to your buckle list of outdoor activities to get into. That being said, once you’re out there it’s you against mother nature and no online forum, blog post or journal can write what the outcome of your day might turn out to be. And for that reason after my first few seasons skiing in the backcountry, I decided to take some control of my outcome every time I got out on that skin track by sticking to my own set of backcountry rules.

Purple Knob K-Country (January 2016)
      1. No EGO: If there is one thing I’ve picked-up over the years shredding in the backcountry is keeping a humble attitude, being patient with others and pushing to your comfort levels and limits in order to make your time out there much more enjoyable. This sport is a never-ending exploration of what you can find by just walking around in the wilderness. It’s not a race, it’s not a competition and it’s open for everyone to learn, enjoy and seek the unknown pow thats available to shred.
      2. Educate yourself: Like I mentioned before, everyone these days has an AST 1 course, which don’t get me wrong is definitely the first-step in the right direction to getting your foot in the backcountry world. However, there is only so much you really can take from that 2-3 day course. Financially, this sport isn’t cheap to get into and neither are the courses, but there are plenty of free talks, forums, mentors to follow and talk to and the never ending world wide web of knowledge to educate yourself further. The more you stay on top of what’s going on out there the more you’ll most likely grow a greater interest and challenge to push yourself in the sport and take those other courses.
      3. Be organized and communicate: If there is an objective you want to get out and ski, plan it out and be on-top of the details of your trip. The most unsuccessful and wasted missions we typically find ourselves in is when we weren’t on-top of our plans, didn’t communicate, and lost track of what the objective we were tackling was. However, failed missions are okay and it happens to us at least a few times a season. Sometimes it was due to our planning and sometimes it was when mother nature wouldn’t allow us to go the extra mile. Remember, whatever the planned mission is and who you go out with, it’s a team effort. Be humble and communicate your feelings with each other.
      4. Dig a pit: I can’t even recall the amount of times I’ve been out in the backcountry and see people dropping into lines without even considering what the snowpack is like. Digging a pit is probably one of the first skills I really took a hold of from my AST 1 course. No matter what Avalanche Canada says on the App, what the backcountry users on my Facebook groups say, or how the snow feels while I’m skinning up, we typically take that extra 10-20 minutes to dig a pit and check-out the full snowpack. And to be honest, most of the time it has made a huge impact on what aspects we ski or how high we go before dropping in. Bottom line is you’re carrying the tools in your backpack and have the background skills to do it anyways, so why not dig?
      5. Have fun! I think the one thing that gets overlooked sometimes about the sport is the seriousness it brings about. Don’t get me wrong, the backcountry is a serious place and should not be taken lightly, but with social media and the wide availability of lines to ski I can’t help but feel for some the ego takes over and it’s still a rat race to the top. For myself, the backcountry was a reason to keep my interest of snowboarding at a high and by getting out of my comfort zone. Every season has had its challenges and I take the sport of splitboarding in the backcountry a personal journey of figuring out what I’m still working on, the things I want to achieve each season, and most importantly how to keep it fun as well safe for Mitch and I. Because in the end, our main objective from every mission we tackle is to make it back home at the end of the day alive together.
Roys Peak, New Zealand (July 2016)

There’s still plenty of backcountry winter season to be had and lines or objectives to tick off that summit list. Let mother nature do its thing and get out there when it’s good! Happy shredding 🙂

Revy Fingers (January 2019)

Posted by Marisa

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