We call it “backcountry skiing”, but those of us who do it know this label isn’t exactly accurate. Perhaps even a wee bit misleading. It should be called backcountry exploring or backcountry adventuring or backcountry slogging or backcountry wandering or anything that actually suggests what it is we’re doing out there. Backcountry skiing makes it sound like it’s about skiing and, well, it’s not. It’s about so much more than skiing. The skiing part is just what happens at the very end of the backcountry experience, the decadent dessert after a really fabulous dinner if you will.
Roughly 20% of backcountry skiing is actually spent skiing, and yes, that skiing is sweet, but it’s the other 80% that keeps the truly obsessed coming back for more. The other 80% is the core, the true definition of what the backcountry experience is. And what is that definition you might be asking? Well, that’s the best part – it’s different for everyone. Once you love it your own definition reveals itself.
This is my definition of the backcountry experience …
It’s maps spread out the night before as you try to decide where tomorrow will take you.
It’s constantly watching the weather forecast and making the avy report a part of your morning routine. It’s knowing all your favorite ski buddy’s phone numbers by heart. It’s that unspoken pact between ski partners; I’ve got your back and you’ve got mine.
It’s driving to the trailhead at an ungodly hour because you have to be at work by 9am and the thought of not skiing today kills you. It’s standing at the bottom of a mountain and knowing you’re going to walk to the top of it. It’s packing a pack with the idea of being out all day, then also including your headlamp in case you’re out all night. It’s route finding and the art of putting in the perfect up-track. It’s ignoring the “no friends on a powder day” saying because there is no backcountry skiing without friends.
It’s the swoosh of your skins on the track and that annoying sqeak in your binding that helps you keep your pace. It’s breathing hard and sweating and learning to love the burn in your leg muscles. It’s making mistakes and, hopefully, still being around to learn from them. It’s digging a pit and really listening to what it wants to tell you.
It’s taking turns breaking trail and the overwhelming gratefulness you feel when your turn is up. It’s those crazy conversations you have on the skin track that stick with you for days afterwards. It’s a frozen CamelBak hose and wishing you were still in bed because it’s too f**king cold out here. It’s the bone-tired, goofy grin you can’t wipe off your face at the end of the day and being so thankful you didn’t stay in bed. It’s wrestling with skins and getting glue in your hair.
It’s knowing you’ve earned every bite of that burger and fries and washing it all down with a beer. It’s fixing a binding in a pinch with duct tape and a rubber band because there are no ski shops around and it has to work. It’s neglecting your edges all winter because you don’t need edges when you ski powder. It’s a pole throwing hissy-fit as you fail on your 3rd attempt at an icy, exposed kick turn. It’s successfully crossing a creek without falling in.
It’s the sweet, hot tea and the cold, hard granola bar that keep you going. It’s stopping to take a picture and the realization that no picture will ever capture all that you are witnessing. It’s getting to the top, taking a moment to look around and reveling in the fact that nothing but your own power and determination propelled you there.
It’s the feeling that time has stopped for just a moment as you drop into your perfect line.
If you’re rolling your eyes or scratching your head right about now, then backcountry skiing might not be your thing and that’s okay, because it’s certainly not for everybody. However, if there is a part of you, even just a single fiber in your body, that is intrigued by the sound of this, then you must try it. There’s nothing else like it. That is a fact.
Like I said, everyone will have their own definition of what the backcountry experience is. We’d love to know what yours is. Please feel free to share it with us on our Facebook page or shoot us an email, email@example.com.
Ready to find out what your definition of the backcountry experience is? The CBMG staff is pretty much obsessed with backcountry skiing and when we’re not doing it we love to talk about it so get in touch with us.
Tiff – Crested Butte Mountain Guide Staff