Backcountry Skiing Checklist

There is a lot to remember before each backcountry skiing trip. Where will you go? What is weather and avalanche forecast? what are your partners skills and abilities? In this article, you’ll find a backcountry skiing checklist to help you organize you backcountry planning and stay safe. That’s why we created a Backcountry Skiing Checklist

There are 3 key times to remember i) at coffee, ii) at the trailhead and iii) on your way up.

COME UP WITH A PLAN

The first step is like with most other days for me. I start with coffee. On a backcountry skiing day, I start by looking at the weather and the Avalanche forecast and reading observations from different sources.  Once I have a have an understanding of the Hazard and problems for the day, I pull out the maps and start building my plan for the day. The goal is to pick your objective for the day by matching slope angles, aspects, and elevations appropriate for the Avalanche Hazards, problems and distribution. Remember to consider your partners knowledge, abilities and risk tolerances. Your goal, to be safe and some good turns.

This is not an easy task, it takes years of experience to get good. Prior to backcountry skiing on your own, take an avalanche level training 1 course to get familiar with the basic knowledge and go out a few days with a professional guide or mentor. Don’t know anyone? I can help, click here to contact me 

 

BEACON CHECK AT THE TRAILHEAD

Start by making sure everyone’s beacon is turned on and confirm the battery life of each beacon. You should never leave the trailhead with less than 50% battery life.

You should check the search and send functions of everyone’s beacon by performing a range and function test.  Every one should test that their beacons work properly in both functions.

It is worth noting, that the beacon should be worn in a harness or a secure pocket.  Electronics incuding Phones and Gopros should be stored at least 8-10 inches from the beacon.  Thinks like credit cards and foil wrappers should no be directly over the beacon.

 

WHEN YOU START, STAY ALERT TO YOUR SURROUNDINGS

Observe as much as possible when you are heading into the backcountry. Take the time on your way up to observe your environment. Then use your observations to verify or dispel info you already have.  Observations help you to know what is happening now and is invaluable to staying safe and finding the best skiing.

Get out of the skin track, feel what the snow is doing, poke your pole into the snow.  do you feel layers?  How does the surface change with aspects? Dig hand pits to look for slabbing and sheers. note recent avalanches, cracking, or whompfing. Is there loading from wind or precip. Is the sun creating roller balls off the rocks.  The more info the better.

Your observations should continue all day and should constantly be integrated into you decision making.

HIRE A PROFESSIONAL

  1. Check Conditions
    1. Read the Avalanche forecast for your chosen area
    2. Check the weather forecast for your area
  2. Make a Plan
    1. Look at a map and match terrain with conditions
    2. Make a backup plan in case conditions are not as expected
    3. Be sure someone knows your plan (Someone Not with you)
  3. Communicate with partners
    1. Confirm route choice and timing with partners
    2. Confirm gear 
      1. Everyone needs rescue gear, but things like first aid and repair kits can be share
      2. Special gear likes ropes, harness or crampons may be needed as well
  4. Pack your gear
    1. Beacon (put it on, turn it on)  Make sure your batteries are good.
    2. Shovel, Probe
    3. Ski, Skis, Poles, and Boots
    4. Layers: Puffy, Hardshell, Soft Shell
    5. Light gloves, Warm gloves
    6. Hat, Goggles, Sunglasses, Buff, Sun hat
    7. Repair kit and First Aid kit
    8. Lunch and Water
    9. Sunscreen and Lip balm
    10. Communication/Navigation (Phone, InReach, Compass, Map)
  5. At The Trailhead
    1. Reconfirm route plan and timing
    2. Verbal gear check
    3. Avalanche Beacon Check
  6. During your Tour
    1. Ask if terrain/conditions are consistent with the pre-trip plan
    2. Look for signs of instability
    3. Assess the likelihood, Size, and Consequences of an Avalanche
    4. Plan: Spacing, Areas of Safety, and Escape route

AVALANCHE TRAINING COURSE

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Backcountry Skiing Checklist

There is a lot to remember before each backcountry skiing trip. Where will you go? What is weather and avalanche forecast? what are your partners