Tips on How to Prepare for Touring in the Backcountry

Backcountry Ski Touring

In preparing for the upcoming BC season the best way to begin is to take pictures of a local peak whenever it snows. The mountain should be easily visible and should be at an elevation you intend on spending some time this season. I like to use the North aspect because it is less likely to melt before winter begins. If you capture the image with a smartphone or modern camera it’s easy to catalog and begin your seasonal snow profile. Most importantly it gives an idea of where weak layers might persist at the start of the season. Luckily, the snow from this September in the Tetons has all melted off below 10,500ft. One less weak layer to be concerned about.

Once the fall equinox hits It’s time to invest in education. It is important to take an outdoor education class of some sort every year to sharpen your knowledge and quicken your reaction time in the BC. This class can be a Wilderness First Responder, an Avalanche Safety Course, or even a Winter Weather Forecasting class. And If you have previously completed an outdoor education course, It is imperative to take the refresher course on time. Allowing your backcountry education to expire will increase your financial burden. GET ENROLLED IN YOUR CLASSES EARLY. This way you can schedule time off from work and maybe even get some friends to join the class. These classes fill up faster than wildfires spread in CA – even the grungiest ski bums are doing their backcountry homework. I like to use two great local organizations; American Avalanche Institute and Jackson Hole Outdoor Leadership Institute. Education is extremely important so check these guys out and let them embark some knowledge.

Fairy Meadows BC

Researching new places to go touring gets me amped for the season. It’s always fun to check out a new area and get involved with a new snowpack. Some of my favorite places I have been to lately have been Fairy Meadows in the Columbia Mountains of British Columbia and the Hellroaring Hut on the Montana/Idaho boarder in the Centenial Mountains.

I am always excited for the Backcountry Gear Guide issue – it fuels the winter stoke and keeps me up to date on the latest touring innovations. Whether you like to buy the new hot shit or would rather buy last year’s stuff on super discount, Fall is a good time to get geared up. This week I received an email saying my Ortovox S1+ Avalanche Transceiver has been repaired and is on its way back from Germany. Just in time to get all my gear ready for pow slaying time. I do a physical inventory; take all my gear and throw it on the bed to inspect its condition.

Inevitably I find some hole or tear I didn’t remember happening and an old crusty snack hidden away. Make sure you took the batteries out of your beacon last spring. If you forgot, do so now and buy some new ones regardless of how much juice is left. You can reuse the old ones in your TV remote. Put some extra batteries in your pack for headlamp and beacon backup.

Inspect the first Aid kit. I usually tweak mine a bit every season as well. Things can expire and it’s good to keep updating. Items you might want in the dead of winter for short tours might be different than those for long spring days. Hopefully, you didn’t let your crampons rust and the leash for your ice ax is still in good shape. Take out your probe and put it together. If it is still in a sheath, throw that thing away, one more step in the rescue process.

Checking the conditions of your skins is a good idea. Storing them properly helps with longevity. Re-glue if necessary. After checking bindings, boards, poles, and boots I like to revive the softgoods. Sometime in July I give all the outerwear a good wash (with powdered detergent). Then in the fall spray some Gear Aid ReviveX or Nikwax to keep up the water repellency and breathability.

The last step in the gear check is to look over the snow science kit. Review your pits from previous years and re-familiarize yourself with the data entry process. Is there enough room in your workbook for this season’s beta, or do you need a new one? Sharpen the pencil, make sure your magnifier isn’t cracked, and put all the tools you like to use in one place.

Now comes the fun part: Get in Shape! Whether you are a gym rat or a gym hater find a way to get yourself physically fit before your first tour. You will appreciate not contemplating suicide on your first ascent of the season. If you are lucky you’re doing a fall surf trip. Personally I don’t have that opportunity very often so I like to do a combination of exercises to keep it interesting. At the gym or at home core exercises are key. Yoga is great. On the treadmill or elliptical I like to put the ramp angle as high as possible to resemble putting in a booter.

For splitboarders checkout this piece we did on the best items for your splitboard kit to take into the backcountry.

Holding weights in your hands while doing this might make you look like a middle aged women, but you will appreciate it the first time you wield an ice ax. For outdoor fall training a combination of hunting and biking is fun and productive. Carrying a heavy pack filled with elk meat through the wilderness will get you ready for touring and provide enough protein for the whole winter.

Backcountry Ski Touring

Lastly – and most importantly – Practice with your beacon. I cannot stress this enough. Read the manual again and again. After the first snowfall covers the valley floor hide a backpack with a beacon and a beer. (editor’s note – drinking beer and getting shape do not go hand and hand..) Then tell one of your friends to go find it. Time them and they will be rewarded with a snow cold beverage. And you will be rewarded with knowing their skills could save your life in the backcountry. Now switch places.

In summary:
1. Track early season snow
2. Get educated
3. Get your gear sorted and ready to go
4. Get in Shape
5. Practice with your beacon

Looking for some skis to get our touring?  Our picks for the best touring skis 2018 can be found here.

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About the Author

Josh Carr
Born in Pittsburgh, Pa. I grew up skiing East Coast Ice. After going to college in San Diego, Ca And skiing Mammoth regularly I moved to the Tetons in 2004. As a ski instructor and ski bum I have been skiing in the BC since '04. Last year I passed my Avalanche 3 course and I am workng for multiple BC ski outfits as a guide and porter.

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