So you want to shred the rad in the backcountry? Well, I hope you have some ligaments left from all those icy, flat landings you suffered in your local snowboard park–you’ll need them for the hiking. They’ll also come in handy when you launch off that huge cliff you’ve been scouting from the road.
Before you set out for the wild, you must first establish your ability and skill levels. The last thing anyone wants is to go out into the unpatrolled mountains and get killed! We’ve all heard these warnings before, but they can never be repeated enough. Take the obvious precautions: avalanche courses, utilizing the proper equipment, calling the avy hotline, and again, staying within your limits.
I’d like to give you some added information for keeping safe in the backcountry. It is all about the history of storms, trusting your gut feelings, and picking your crew carefully.
Don’t ever travel to a strange place and blindly go for it. I make it a point to always ride with someone who lives in the area I’m visiting. They understand the snowpack and terrain because they’ve seen the type of storms that come through the area–heavy, light, wet, or wind-affected snowstorms. To completely understand the actual stability of the snowpack, you have to dig a pit and study the different layers that have fallen. Combine that with the knowledge of the storm history to come up with the final decision on the safety of the snowpack. An avalanche-training course can properly teach you how to read the layers of snow that appear in your pit.
I respect gut feelings most of all. An excellent example of why you should pay attention to your feelings happened on a heli trip in Alaska. I stood at the top of a huge mountain in the Chugach range with a large group of shredders, and boy, did I feel weird. As I started to comment about my feelings, a class-four avalanche (six-foot crown and 500 yards across) swept us up. Holy smokes, that was scary! The best comparison I can come up with is from the movie Superman–the scene where Lois Lane is cruising, with the car radio cranked, along the San Andreas Fault, and the opening crevasse chases after her. This scene flashed through my mind over and over what seemed like a million times before the actual fracture reached our group. The cracks spider-webbed around the crew and away we went in a frantic ride down the mountain. This type of experience reminds you of the power of Mother Nature. From the beginning, my gut feelings were telling me to get the hell out of there.
The last thing I would like to emphasize to all you backcountry goers is that who you involve in your expedition will help make your experience safe and go smoothly. Your crew must include people you trust your life with and vice versa. An appointed leader is critical to keep everyone on task in case of an emergency. It isn’t going to help you or your group if you do get in trouble and no one can take charge to help the situation. There are so many things that can go wrong in the wild outdoors, and who is with you could end up being very meaningful. Remember, you don’t have all the luxuries of a ski resort out in the backcountry: no ski patrol, warming huts, marked closures, avalanche control, and most importantly no one to hear a cry for help.
I’m hoping that this helped you to better understand what’s involved in venturing into the backcountry. I really think it’s an awesome part of snowboarding; it stands out as something very exclusive and rewarding. We must remember that the backcountry demands a high level of respect! The snow-covered mountains are so vast and powerful, and sometimes they can release some of their power back on their guests. Peace.
Tips you need to hear again and again.
* Carry a shovel, Pieps, extra batteries, probe, first-aid kit, food, extra clothes, phone, and a lighter.
Take an avalanche-training class.
Never go into the backcountry alone.
Tell someone where your party is planning to go and when you plan to return.
Know the storm history and dig a pit.
Never grab tindy, tailfish, or nethod.
If it’s really, really good, don’t tell!