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10 Tips on Skiing the Backcountry

Including advice from Seth Morrison, Chris Davenport, and Alaskan heli-ski guide Kirsten Kremer, we offer up a crucial list of facts and tips you need to know before you head out of bounds.
posted: 09/15/2009
The Anatomy of a Slide

 1.  A recent study found that the person most likely to be caught in a slide is a 25- to 29-year-old male. The good news: Being accompanied by a woman slightly reduces the risk. For real.

 2.  Your instincts should play a 50 percent role in determining whether a slope is safe; the other half should come from gathered information. Don’t confuse instinct with ego.

 3. “Check your local avalanche forecast website every day, even if you’re not skiing. It’ll tell you about wind, snow accumulation, and temperature changes.”  —Seth Morrison, pro skier

 4.  Invest in a slope meter ($30; backcountryaccess.com). It’s light and easy to carry, and it’ll show if your slope is over 30 degrees and therefore a higher risk.

 5.  Avalanches are most likely to occur within 24 hours of a storm. Other red flags: slough and natural slides, temperature changes, whumphing noises, and wind.

6.  “Stick the grip of your pole into the snow. Feel how the snow layers are stacked. If you feel heavy on top of soft, that’s not good.” 
—Kirsten Kremer, heli-ski guide

 7.  When organizing your pack, keep your shovel and probe in an easy-to-access spot, like an exterior sleeve. And always bring plenty of food, water, and extra layers.

 8.  The bible of backcountry travel is a book by Swedish mountain guide Jimmy Odén called Freeskiing: How to Adapt to the Mountain ($65; freeskiingthebook.com).

 9.  “The cliché ‘safety in numbers’ is not applicable to backcountry skiing. Pick two or three trustworthy people.”  —Chris Davenport, pro skier and author of Ski the 14ers

 10.  At the American Avalanche Association’s website (avalanche .org), you can check forecasts and an accident database, find avalanche courses, and follow a safety tutorial.

 

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