Pandemic or no pandemic, backcountry skiing is hot. Skiers are hitting trailheads in droves this year, eager to earn their turns and enjoy a quiet respite from the chaotic year we’ve been trudging through. Showing up to a trailhead that’s packed to the brim can be frustrating, but with backcountry areas seeing so much extra love this year, it’s a great opportunity to take stock and make sure we’re all being courteous. Here are a few simple guidelines to keep the backcountry safe, pleasant and free of postholing.
Keep it low-angle
Steep skintracks are no fun. It may seem like a shortcut, but nothing can slow a group down faster than slipping and sliding on a steep skinner. If you’re in a high-traffic area, you may just have to work with the hand you’re dealt. But if you’re lucky enough to be first to the trailhead on a powder day, try to set a low-angle skintrack that’s courteous to those behind you. A good measure is to keep the angle low enough that you don’t need to go above your lowest heel riser. If you’re up to stilettos it’s time to take it down a notch.
Communicate with other parties
We all want to keep our stashes a secret, but when you leapfrog another party, a brief chat about where you’re both headed can prevent you from skiing on top of each other. If you’re headed for the same line or a zone where too many people could be problematic, sharing radio channels or developing a quick plan to give the other party some space is a quick way to avoid getting sloughed on, or worse.
Fill in your snow pits
Digging in the snow is a great way to get familiar with what’s going on in the snowpack and I’m all for using this tool as much as you possibly can. But after you finish up your stability tests, be sure to fill in that gaping crater on the slope. Leaving massive holes all over a popular area is not only aesthetically displeasing, but it can seriously booby trap unknowing skiers.
Don’t bootpack in the skintrack
This one may seem obvious, but it doesn’t always seem to be. Postholing in the skintrack is a quick way to make enemies in the backcountry, and it’s rarely easier than making your own bootpack. I’ve seen the most mild-mannered tele skiers lose their cool on a wallowing culprit. If you don’t have skins and touring bindings, it’s worth searching for an area—like Mount Glory on Teton Pass—that has a designated bootpack.
Don’t pee in the skintrack
This one is simple. It’s not that hard to take three steps off the trail and go hide behind a tree. Yellow snow is best left in the woods.
Keep the descent in mind
That’s why we’re here in the first place, right? If you’re breaking trail, try to stick to trees or ridges you likely won’t ski down and leave those wide-open pitches for the descent. No one wants their soul turns interrupted by the harsh clunk of the skintrack every few hundred yards.
Pass with respect
If slow and steady is your jam, try to be cognizant of those coming up behind you and step off the track to let them pass. If you’re a speed demon and eager to pass, consider stepping off the track to walk around slower parties instead of stomping on the tails of the person in front of you. Tail stomping is a cardinal sin that will catch up to you in the form of Karma: skiing breakable crust and pre-releasing. If you come upon the party whose been breaking trail the whole way up, try to avoid ripping skins early and snaking their line. Again, Karma.
Don’t blast tunes
Bumping AC/DC might get you and your crew fired up, but loud music robs other skiers of the peace and quiet most come to the backcountry to enjoy. Leave the speaker behind for your parking lot tailgate. If silence is too awkward for you, by all means sing or yodel your heart out.
Leave No Trace
This may seem obvious, but keep Leave No Trace principles in mind and pack out food, trash and especially your dog’s turd. Burying it in the snow may seem like a clever idea now, but come springtime all the junk hiding down there comes out to haunt us in a very smelly way.
If you’ve been skiing in the backcountry since Reagan was president, you’re probably pretty over the scene this year. But there’s no room for curmudgeonly attitudes these days—being patient with those newer to the sport will pay out in the long run. We all deserve to be here just as much as the next postholing snowboarder and it benefits everyone to kindly share knowledge and etiquette so we can protect and respect the areas we love.