Intro to Backcountry Touring

Intro to Backcountry Touring Overview

Who needs lift lines? The possibilities for backcountry skiing/riding in Washington State are endless and limited only by technical skills, knowledge, and desire for adventure. Our world-class guide staff and local experts are ready to pass along the knowledge essential to earn your turns in good style. With a low guide-to-student ratio, we have ample time to cover the ins and outs of how to efficiently move through backcountry terrain while maximizing the fun factor (i.e. downhill runs in untracked powder).

In the Alpine Ascents Intro to Backcountry Touring, students spend two full field days learning and applying all the skills of a proficient backcountry traveler. Skinning efficiently uphill, tour planning, and applying the avalanche forecast to terrain are a few of the key fundamentals taught and practiced. Our guides will also coach students on staying warm and dry while managing the extremes of tough physical effort and cold winter conditions. Throughout the course, we integrate an understanding of avalanche hazard into the bigger equation of having a fun and risk aware day of backcountry skiing and snowboarding.

Dedicated AIARE Level 1 courses focus specifically on understanding avalanches, using the avalanche forecast, and anticipating and avoiding avalanche hazard in the backcountry, but do not cover the other skills necessary for backcountry safety and success. This two-day seminar will focus on how to apply the avalanche forecast to the terrain, allowing skiers/riders to find the best snow in the backcountry while staying risk aware. Planning for and avoiding avalanche hazard is an integral part of every day in the backcountry, so it is a primary point of planning in our morning team meetings.

Make the most of your backcountry touring education this winter by bundling our Level 1 Avalanche Course with the Intro to Backcountry Touring course for $975! Save $200 with this deal and enrich your Level 1 Avalanche Course with more helpful techniques for proficient backcountry travel. Together these programs give students all the necessary skills to travel in simple to challenging backcountry terrain with team members of equal or greater training.

This program is structured to serve as a companion course to the AIARE Level 1 Avalanche Safety Course and should not be considered a replacement to the Level 1.

Course Objectives

This course – along with a Level 1 Avalanche Safety Course – is intended to give students all the necessary skills to travel in simple to challenging backcountry terrain with team members of equal or greater training.

Both our Mount Baker and Mount Rainier venues offer exceptional terrain for new backcountry skiers and snowboarders. With easy access, ample snowfall, and varied terrain they both make for engaging mountain classrooms and serve as springboards to bigger ski tours in the Cascades and beyond.

Alpine Ascents Intro to Backcountry Touring Objectives

  • Plan for travel in backcountry terrain utilizing avalanche forecasts, weather forecasts, maps, and other resources
  • Apply the avalanche forecast and danger rating to terrain in the field
  • Use and maintain backcountry skiing and snowboarding equipment
  • Practice self-care and layering in the winter backcountry environment
  • Use beacon, shovel, and probe in avalanche rescue scenarios
  • Develop uphill travel techniques including skinning, track setting, and kick turning
  • Hone downhill movement skills for powder skiing, navigate challenging snow conditions
  • Increase efficiency in transitions between uphill and downhill travel
  • Plan a backcountry descent with team members
  • Read terrain and find the best snow conditions
  • Learn to spot and avoid common avalanche trigger points
  • Analyze terrain (slope angle, aspect, terrain hazards)

Frequently Asked Questions - Intro to Backcountry Touring

You will be emailed specific information for your course upon registration. The following is to serve as a helpful guideline.

How good at skiing/riding do I need to be?

Participants don’t need to be advanced skiers or riders, but the more experienced you are at skiing or snowboarding, the more fun you’ll have. Participants should feel very comfortable on blue square runs and be able to get down black diamond runs. Prior experience skiing off-piste (terrain that’s off groomed trails) will pay dividends in the backcountry where snow conditions can vary greatly.   You may encounter deep snow, bumps, steep slopes, chutes, and crud in a single run!   If you are still working on basic ski techniques, we recommend taking a lesson at a ski resort before venturing out in the backcountry.

Can I use a splitboard?

Yes! To get the most out of this course please familiarize yourself with the process of transitioning to and from uphill/downhill travel modes prior to this program. Transitions are often the most challenging part of learning to splitboard.

How heavy will my pack be?

A pack for a day of backcountry skiing or riding should be no more than 15 pounds. Heavier packs make for more challenging descents in addition to slowing uphill travel

What will the snow conditions be like?

Snow conditions encountered in the average day in the backcountry can range from perfect powder to difficult crust and everything in between. One of the skills we cover is how to identify where skiing and riding conditions are better or worse in the terrain.

We do not expect students to link perfect turns in sun crust – but we do expect you have the downhill movement skills to competently navigate challenging snow conditions with the direction of the instructor/guide.

Will I learn how to ski uphill?

Yes! One of the fundamental skills of backcountry skiing and snowboarding is being able to move efficiently uphill by having both good uphill movement skills and being able to read terrain to find the easiest way to gain elevation.

Will my instructor/guides coach me on downhill skiing and snowboarding?

As guides we are always passing on tips to make backcountry travel more risk aware and more fun and pointers for downhill travel are no exception. That said it is beyond our ability and the available time for us to teach you to how to ski or snowboard in the backcountry.

What if the avalanche hazard is too high to travel in the backcountry?

One of the key elements of backcountry skiing is being able to identify avalanche terrain versus places where avalanches are nearly impossible (very low angled terrain, ridges, tight trees, etc.). In this course we will spend time analyzing terrain and where we go in relation to the avalanche hazard. Though our terrain choices are much more limited in times of Considerable or High avalanche hazard, we will still go into the backcountry and work through as much of the course curriculum as conditions allow.

How do I get to Alpine Ascents International?

Click Here for Map

  • From Interstate 5, take the Mercer Street Exit and follow the signs to Seattle Center/Space Needle. (A quick right turn onto Fairview Ave., and a quick left turn onto Valley St., which becomes Broad Street.)
  • After you pass the Space Needle on your right, make a right turn onto Denny Way.
  • Proceed to 1st Ave. North and turn right.
  • Proceed to Mercer Street and turn right.
  • We are located at 109 West Mercer Street, directly across the street from Bank of America and Next Door to Ozzie’s Tavern.
    Street parking is limited to 2-hour zones and parking meters, though there are several pay lots near our offices.
Should I tip my Guide and how much should I tip them?

Although tipping is not a requirement it is greatly appreciated. An average tip for this program is $30-$50 per guide per skiier.

Reading List

This is our highly recommended shortlist. We would be happy to pass along a longer reading list for those interested. These links will bounce to with reviews.

Snow Sense
Jill Fredston and Doug Fesler
Backcountry Ski Book
Allen O’bannon and Mike Clelland

Local Favorites


Mt. Baker, the highest point of the North Cascades, is a heavily glaciated dormant volcano. The twelve active glaciers of Mt. Baker cover an area exceeding 20 square miles. Mt. Baker is unique in its great mass of snow and ice and easy accessibility. This combination creates a perfect training ground for backcountry skiing and riding.

  • Setting the world record for recorded snowfall in a single season (1,140′ in 1999), Mt. Baker remains one of the snowiest spots in the Pacific Northwest and the world, attracting skiers and snowboarders from far and wide.
  • The Heather Meadows area offers a plethora of prime ski tours for skiers / riders of all ability levels.    From wide bowls, to tight trees, with no shortage of spiny lines, the Baker backcountry is the stuff of legend.
  • On a clear day, backcountry travelers can bask in panoramic views of Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker.

Mt. Rainier, is the highest volcano and largest glaciated mountain in the contiguous U.S. This alpine giant is famous for its superior climbing as well as its pristine wilderness. The vast glaciers and alpine ridges of Mount Rainier offer endless stunning backcountry touring options.  With the parking at Paradise a lofty 5,400′ above sea level, we are transported right into Rainier’s legendary deep snowpack.

  • The Paradise area at Mount Rainier is known for its snowfall which attracts skiers and snowboarders from across the country to its slopes.
  • We are one of the few guiding services that is able to operate in Mount Rainier National Park and our guides are deeply familiar with the terrain and the best snow stashes.
  • Mount Rainier is one of the most popular ski mountaineering areas in the Cascades – and for good reason.   There is abundant snow and huge variety of backcountry and skiing opportunities for those that travel past the parking lot.



Crystal Mountain, lies just northeast of Mount Rainier National Park and offers sublime views of the peak on a clear day. While it’s not as lofty as Mount Rainier proper, Crystal sits much higher than other spots in Washington which makes for excellent snow quality.  Skiers can expect a mix of intermediate and advanced terrain, but beginners won’t be left out. If you like gladed tree skiing, you’ll love Crystal.

  • Skiers enjoy more infrastructure at Crystal compared to other ski areas in Washington. There’s no shortage of places to grab a bite to eat après ski and it’s a relatively chill two hour drive from Seattle.

Snoqualmie Pass, is located less than an hour from Seattle and offers a convenient escape from the city.   A combination of high snowfall, easy accessibility, and desirable slopes and epic couloirs make Snoqualmie Pass one of the best zones in Washington and exceedingly popular with backcountry travelers of all experience levels.

  • The roadside ski tours around Snoqualmie Pass and beyond are unusually steep and access excellent terrain. Plus, there are a lot of them! Some have called Snoqualmie Pass one of the densest ski touring areas in the country by pure volume of runs.


My experience in the Mt. Baker backcountry was surreal.  Light snow.  Beautiful sunny weather.   Zero crowds.

backcountry ski d
Photo Credit: Ruby Mountain Heli

Intro to Backcountry Touring BLOG

  • The Importance of Avalanche Education

    Submission by Trevor Husted  The memory is vivid, it started with a hollow thump that turned into a heavy roar. The sound dissipated as quickly as it started and when our group of backcountry splitboarders arrived at the ridge we looked over to the next slope and saw that the whole slope of snow had […]

  • Backcountry Tour Planning Webinar & Trip Planning Tools

    When conditions are prime for winter backcountry adventure, it’s easy to get caught up in the stoke and overlook essential pre-trip preparation in a rush to get on the skin track. In this webinar, guide and backcountry powder chaser, Elias Zane Holt, lays out how to plan a successful and safe trip into the mountains, […]


    by Jonathon Spitzer  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 […]

Partners & Accreditations

Alpine Ascents International is an authorized mountain guide service of Denali National Park and Preserve and Mount Rainier National Park.
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