Backcountry Ski Seminar Itinerary

Day 1

We will meet in Ashford or Glacier, WA (depending on course location) at 7:30am for an orientation and gear check. Having the proper equipment that is in good working order is essential to go anywhere in the backcountry. In addition to inspecting skis, boots, skins and avalanche rescue gear we will also talk about packing for a day of backcountry travel and what we expect conditions to be like in the coming days. We will also review the daily avalanche and weather forecast and how this affects our travel plan.

We will then drive the remaining 45 minutes to either Paradise (for Mount Rainier itineraries) or Heather Meadows (for Mount Baker itineraries) where we will set up our skis or snowboards for uphill travel and demonstrate a beacon function check. From there we will walk uphill a short distance to an avalanche rescue site where we will review the use of beacon, probe, and shovel in avalanche rescue and what to do if there is an avalanche. Though some students may have covered these skills as part of a Level 1 Avalanche Course, it is necessary to have all backcountry users on the same page when it comes to avalanche rescue before we travel further into the backcountry.  Those with prior training should see this time spent as a chance to review rescue skills that need continual practice.

By mid-morning, we will gain about 1000′ of elevation en route to our first backcountry descent. Along the way we cover the nuances of moving uphill on skis and/or splitboards, such as how to pick an efficient line for uphill travel, breaking trail, using heel risers in steeper terrain and how to change directions with kick turns and other essential techniques.

At the top of our run, we will talk about efficient transitions from uphill to downhill travel and also create a plan for our descent that avoids avalanche hazard, keeps team members in visual contact, and capitalizes on the best snow conditions for our first run. At the bottom we will transition for another uphill leg that sets us up for a final run back to the trailhead.

Skills Highlighted Today:

  • Planning and preparation for backcountry travel
  • Avalanche rescue
  • Uphill travel (kick turns, heel risers, and trail-breaking techniques)
  • Terrain selection
  • Route finding
  • Avalanche hazard recognition
  • Descending techniques for skiing/riding in the backcountry

Day 2

Today we will return to our previous day’s rendezvous point at 7:30am for a morning meeting to plan for the day’s ski tour. We will spend up to an hour orienting ourselves to the terrain using a combination of paper maps and digital mapping resources in conjunction with avalanche and weather forecasts.

While day one of the Ski Seminar is a skills day with a shorter ski tour, today we go for a longer ski tour to apply these skills in simple to challenging terrain – up to 3000′ of elevation gain and descent depending on conditions.

After our touring planning session, we will drive up to our trailhead, gear up, and run through another beacon function check before we begin our second day in the backcountry. Over the course of the tour, all participants will work together to make both macro and micro-scale terrain choices and learn strategies for moving through backcountry terrain safely. All group decisions regarding terrain and travel are made with the oversight of the instructor/guide to help facilitate the decision making and teamwork process.

Most backcountry ski tours involve a variety of snow conditions and today will not likely be an exception. Being able to safely manage challenging snow conditions is a big part of backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering descents. While descending, we will cover techniques for skiing/riding in a wide variety of snow conditions that are encountered in the backcountry. Guides will model techniques for safe group management while skiing/riding in the backcountry.

After our final run back to the trailhead, we will drive back to town for a bite to eat and recap the events and decisions we made during the day. Every day in the mountains should involve some sort of debrief to cover what went well and what we might have done differently. Finally, we will wrap up with tips for continually applying the course material in future backcountry tours.

Skills Highlighted Today:

  • Tour planning with both paper maps and app based map software
  • Trailhead safety check
  • Efficient transition techniques
  • Backcountry group management
  • Execution of a tour plan
  • Applying the avalanche forecast to the terrain
  • Descending techniques for skiing/riding in the backcountry

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

backcountry ski d
Photo Credit: Ruby Mountain Heli


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