It's that time of winter when you've been waiting long enough to see who's getting the snow. It's time to plan your trip. Where are you going this season for those memorable turns?
If you're a backcountry skier or rider, you may have a hut trip planned with no lift access whatsoever. Seems like a great idea until the weather shuts down, avalanche danger spikes, and you're stuck inside reading back issues of Powder and rationing coffee. Or are you still just skiing the piste? It might be time to branch out. It's not easy to find the freshies inbounds after a week of high pressure and holiday traffic.
Versatility is the name of the game here folks. My advice is to pick a venue that has it all: A great ski area with lift-accessed backcountry, as well as ski touring options for when you're ready to ditch the crowds and sweat a little.
Visiting a new mountain range and venturing outside of the ski area boundary can be a daunting, and potentially dangerous undertaking. The key to making it safe and fun is doing your homework and keeping your plans flexible.
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Next, familiarize yourself with the terrain. Browse the web for info on common destinations, purchase a guidebook and a map, and come up with some options.
Finally, track down up to date conditions. The local avalanche bulletin will advise you which terrain you should avoid. Pay attention. When visiting a new area, I generally start following the daily avalanche forecast a week or two in advance.
These days, we're used to instant gratification. The great thing about ski touring is, you often don't get it. You're working for your turns, learning new terrain, and problem solving. Whether you're outside the backcountry gate of a resort, or miles into the wilderness, you have to accept that smart, conservative decision-making will get you home safely. Keep your plans flexible.
Use the ski lifts to maximize efficiency and enjoyment. When there's pow inbounds, ski it. When it's blue bird with low avalanche danger, venture out. American skiers love to go up/down, up/down all day long. Add some variety to your day by combining inbounds runs with missions outside the gate.
Don't be afraid to ask for a little help from a local or to hire a guide. When visiting a new zone, it's all too easy to wander around in unfamiliar terrain. Having someone to show you around can make the difference between an epic day and a recon outing.
Our ski areas are finally beginning to see the benefits of an open boundary policy. Armed with good decision-making skills and the appropriate rescue equipment, we can make more of our ski terrain (and ski more untracked lines) than ever before. Don't miss out!
-- Michael Soucy. Soucy guides in Colorado and Alaska and can be found exploring the Rockies on skis throughout the winter or teaching AIARE avalanche courses for the Colorado Mountain School.