Here in Colorado, playing outside is just what we do. We hike, bike, ski, snowboard, snowshoe and generally enjoy the Great Outdoors with zeal and abandon. It’s a rite of passage for us.
With innovations and advancements in technology in recent years, folks are increasingly flocking to the backcountry with the promise of untracked snow and the absence of lift lines. Moreover, the crushing weight and restrictions of the pandemic have made getting “away from it all” even more alluring. Indeed, backcountry-related equipment sales between August and October of last year skyrocketed 76% over the same 2019 period, according to market research company The NPD Group.
All-terrain ski equipment – skis, boots and bindings – were up 51%. Backcountry accessory sales including avalanche shovels, beacons, probes and climbing skins were up 74 % during that period. And splitboard sales experienced a whopping 151% spike in sales over 2019. By all measures, this backcountry category is the fastest growing in the industry and is gaining momentum at breakneck speeds.
But getting into the backcountry requires more than just the gear. It is imperative to know what you’re getting into because what you don’t know can kill you. Check out these resources so you can be prepared: https://castlerockbikeandski.com/backcountry/
KBYG.org can provide you with many of the basics you will need to have a successful backcountry adventure. In a nutshell, there are five main things you need to know before you go (KBYG – you see what they did there):
1. Have the correct gear
2. Take an avalanche course
3. Before you leave, familiarize yourself with the weather and avalanche forecasts
4. Take the time to look at the terrain you plan to recreate in before diving in
5. Be mindful of where you are on the mountain and stay away from avalanche-prone areas
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center has the latest updates on Avalanche conditions around the state and the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education offers classes and tutorials for both for both recreational participants as well professional instructors.
This has been a particularly dangerous year for avalanches. The snow is extremely unstable and while the idea of a big powder day away from the crowds at the resorts sounds nice, we have already seen eight people die in avalanches and we’re only halfway through the season. To compare, six people died during the entire 2019-2020 season.
There is little doubt that strapping on a pair of skins on AT skis or splitboard and skinning up the hill is exhilarating and a heck of a workout. It’s fun, challenging and invigorating. But it can also be dangerous. If you are interested in the fun, challenging and invigorating parts but aren’t too keen on the dangerous part, consider skinning up inbounds at any number of resorts around the state.
Not every resort or mountain allows uphill access but many do. Check with your favorite resort or mountain to see what their rules and regulations are before you go. Some allow uphill access only certain times of the day.
Many have implemented uphill access passes and most have specific routes for skiers and riders wanting to skin up the mountain. But it is a safe and easy way to get into the sport and this year it’s a great way to avoid the avalanche danger in the backcountry.