Backcountry skiing and splitboarding encompasses a broad spectrum of ski endeavors, from off-piste riding out of a resort to ski day touring to overnight ski expeditions. I adjust my kit based on the type of skiing I’m doing, the same way you would when doing a day of top rope climbing versus a long multi-pitch route. For me it has always been about a balance of weight, risk, rewards, and the element of “what if X happens?” When adjusting my kit, I think about the following: what are my exit options if my equipment breaks, injury occurs, or plans change? What are my resources for potential rescue?
I like to envision my ski pack being similar to a carpenter’s tool belt. Everything has its place on the tool belt and most tools can be used for multiple things. I always keep my ski pack organized, and certain gear can double as rescue equipment. Another key similarity relates to weight. It’s important to have the right tool for the job—but you can’t bring the kitchen sink. An additional three or four pounds in my pack will make a big difference over a long day of backcountry skiing.
Here are few tips to keep your ski/splitboard pack light. (Disclaimer: this is what works for me, and as a backcountry user you should play around with what works best for you and your type of riding in the backcountry.)
First Aid Kit
This is vital and always lives in my pack in a bright red waterproof sack. My med kit is designed to be used one day and then must be refilled if used. That makes the weight of my first aid kit just under 1.2lbs. Always have a CPR mask, snow professionals prefer the NuMask as it has proven to be more effective for avalanche rescue victims.
Drag Bag/Emergency Tarp with ultra light pad
I have learned from two different ski-guiding incidents that having a drag bag/emergency tarp is vital. Every backcountry user should carry one at all times in their group. My recommendation is find a way to make it fit into your everyday kit. I have saved weight by having a drag bag customized with an extra ultra-light sit-nylon sewn onto it, making the drag bag big enough to work as an emergency tarp shelter if needed. Pair the tarp with an ultra light pad and the kit weighs in at 1.2 lbs. It is a fair amount of weight and volume, but the one time you take it out of your pack is the time you need it the most!
My repair kit is adjusted to the remoteness of my adventure. It’s a good idea to think in advance about what you would do if your binding broke, or your skins no longer stick to your skis and you have to ascend up one more hill to get back to the parking lot. The biggest tip is learning how to use your MacGyver skills, get creative with improvising in the field. This video by AMGA ski guide Ian Havlick shows what you can commonly find in the repair kit of many guides on day ski tours in the lower 48 states.
Something I’ve learned over the years is you always want to have a way to start a fire. You are kidding yourself if you’re going to start a fire in the winter with a lighter. Therefore, I carry a starter flare. The flare allows you to start a fire in wet and cold conditions to stay warm and, if necessary, signal for a rescue. Some people love to carry a stove, but for me I would rather be able to start a large fire to keep my group warm in case of an emergency.
Snow Saw and Brush Saw
I never travel in the backcountry without a saw in the group. Having an aggressive tooth snow saw in your pack can also double as a brush saw, which can be incredibly valuable in many situations. With this tool, you can cut an emergency-landing zone, help skiers and riders who end up in a tree well, or help an avalanche victim that has been pushed up against a tree
Avalanche Rescue Equipment
I don’t skimp in this area. It’s worth a couple extra ounces for a durable avalanche rescue kit. I use a shovel with a metal blade weighing in at about 1.5 lbs. For probes, I use a length of at least 250 cm. To help save weight on long backcountry tours I will carry a carbon-fiber probe, but that still over 250 cm long.
At the end of the day ask yourself those important questions. Do I need this in my pack? Is there a lighter alternative? Is this piece of equipment vital to the safety of my backcountry day? Ultimately the most important thing is that your kit works for you and your adventure.