How To Hike Up a Mountain with Skis - Tips For Back Country Skiing
Author: Nicole Malczan
How to Hike up a Mountain with Skis – Tips for Backcountry Skiing Skiing offers the kind of thrills you live for. You love that moment of gliding down a tall, snowy mountain, but first, you have to get up the mountain. That’s the hard part, especially when backcountry skiing. How do you hike up a mountain with skis?
Here are some recommended tips for hiking up a mountain with skis for backcountry skiing:
- Make sure you’re in good health and you’re relatively fit
- Know how to spot and avoid an avalanche
- Bring the right gear and equipment
- Get telescoping ski poles if you don’t already have them
- Travel in a group
- Don’t deviate from your plan
- Start with an easier ski route
In this article, we’ll elaborate more on each of the above tips so you’re more than prepared for your backcountry skiing expedition to go well. Keep reading, as you won’t want to miss it!
7 Tips for Climbing a Mountain for Backcountry Skiing
Since you don’t have the luxury of a resort full of preselected trails and paths when backcountry skiing, this sport/hobby has a higher element of risk to it. You’re heading out into literal unchartered territory.
For that reason, it’s important to take extra precautions than you might when alpine skiing at a resort. At least with alpine skiing, you could anticipate a relatively quick rescue (in most cases). When backcountry skiing, that’s not necessarily the case. Be smart, be safe, and follow these tips.
Get Fit and Healthy Before Climbing
It’s difficult to assess the seemingly unending height of a mountain until you begin trekking up it, skis attached. To even qualify as a mountain, it must have a height of 1,000 feet more than the nearby area, says National Geographic.
You may not aspire to reach the mountain’s peak, but even so, you have to expect you’ll climb mile after mile after mile. It’s not like hiking either, where you have traction and stability from your ski boots. You’re often schlepping through inches of snow on skis and a pair of ski poles. It’s not easy in the least. You can slip, get cold and tired, and disorient yourself when all you have to go by is your own tracks.
Before you ever reach the backcountry skiing mountain, you need to schedule an appointment with your doctor. Get a checkup and make sure you’re healthy enough to go backcountry skiing. If you are, then begin training for the trek. Walk on a treadmill of varying heights, increasing how long you walk or run each day.
Train your legs, your arms, and your entire body through weightlifting, cardio, and endurance exercises. The fitter you are and the longer you can go without getting tired, the readier you are to go backcountry skiing.
Plan for Avalanches and Know How to Avoid Them
DoSomething.org says that 150 people worldwide will die of an avalanche every year. Sometimes death occurs due to being buried under snow, but hypothermia and trauma can also be other causes of death for avalanche victims.
You don’t want to be another statistic, so make sure you track the likelihood of avalanches near the mountain by visiting Avalanche.org. This website is available through National Hazards Control Solutions and updates in real-time.
You choose your location on the map, which does expand beyond the United States, and then see what your avalanche risk is for the day. If the area is green, then the avalanche risk is low. An area marked yellow has a moderate avalanche risk, while one that’s orange is a considerable risk. You’ll want to rethink your backcountry skiing trip at that point.
Red spots mean the avalanche risk is high, so don’t go backcountry skiing. Black dots represent an extreme risk, so you definitely want to stay home.
Here are a few tips for safeguarding yourself and your party against avalanches:
- When ascending a mountain, especially a slope, go as high as you can. This will put you closer to the avalanche’s crown, which can increase your chances of survival compared to being hit by the avalanche from lower down.
- Look to the trees. If you see none for miles where you are, it’s probably because an avalanche wiped out the younger trees. It’s ideal to have sturdy trees around, as they can break up the snow of the avalanche.
- Stick to a ridge’s windward side. Here, snow won’t slide as much, and it thins out as well.
- Avoid hiking if there was recently a storm in your area. The added snow bonds with the old snow, but weakly. That puts the new snow at a higher risk of tumbling down the mountain, triggering an avalanche. It’s recommended you wait two days before venturing out.
Get the Gear and Equipment You Need
Between the time it takes to get to the mountain, how long you’ll climb, and then skiing down it, you have to dedicate a whole day to backcountry skiing. That’s a lot of time to spend in the cold snow. For that reason, it’s crucial you have the right gear and equipment.
Here’s what you need.
- Avalanche airbag backpack: A standard backpack suffices, as you can keep your food, clothing, and other gear here. We’d recommend an avalanche airbag backpack over a standard backpack though because it has a ripcord and an airbag within. If you tug on the ripcord, the airbag inflates. This can pull you up a little if you’re ever caught in an avalanche.
- Climbing skins: Remember before how we talked about the traction you get with hiking boots? In backcountry skiing, your board’s skin is what gives you that traction. Get a high-quality climbing skin, and don’t forget that it should come off when you ride down the mountain.
- Splitboard: A splitboard, as the name implies, can divide down the middle so you get free-heeled skis. Bindings keep the parts together or let you attach to other riders in your group. When it’s time to ski down, reattach the splitboard.
- Backcountry ski boots: The right footwear is integral when backcountry skiing, as you can keep your feet warm and comfortable. Ski boots made for the backcountry feature a walking mode for traversing hills. These boots are also lightweight.
- Avalanche probe: A type of pole, an avalanche probe lets you find others in your party if they get lost beneath an avalanche.
- Avalanche shovel: You can then begin digging out the person with your avalanche shovel.
- Avalanche transceiver: With an avalanche transceiver, you can communicate with other nearby transceivers to potentially get rescued after an emergency, avalanche or otherwise.
Use Telescoping Ski Poles
Another essential you need for your backcountry skiing expedition is telescoping ski poles. Fixed-length poles force you to walk the same way up a narrower portion of a mountain as you would a wider expanse.
With telescoping ski poles, you can increase or decrease their length as needed during your climb, then keep their length short enough that you can attach them to your bag when riding down the mountain.
Never Climb Alone
When it comes to navigating the backcountry, going it alone is one of the worst things you can do. You can’t dig yourself out of an avalanche, nor can you call for help if you’re buried under feet of heavy snow. Your avalanche backpack can help to a degree, but not enough that your life would be saved, guaranteed.
Plus, what if you get lost? As we said, it can get disorienting out there in unexplored territory. Without anyone else around, you’re left relying on your own memory and your sense of direction to get around.
Even if your friends aren’t backcountry skiers (or any type of skiers really), you can meet skiers in all sorts of places. Whether that’s through an instructional class or even in an online community, you always have people to go skiing with. Just make sure you vet anyone you meet online before adventuring with them.
Have a Plan and Stick with It
You thought you wanted to climb the mountain you’re on, but then you see a side path that captivates your attention. Wouldn’t it be cool to stop climbing and go explore that path instead? Yes, but it’s not fair to do that.
If you as a group make a plan, then it’s important to stick with that plan for several reasons. For one, you likely researched the backcountry area as much as you were able to. You also looked into the risk of avalanches in that area so you’re well-informed.
You may have also told friends and family back home where you’d be in case they have to get in touch with authorities to launch a rescue effort.
Changing gears now could make it much harder for you to be found if you’re lost, injured, or in other danger. Also, without knowing whether you could face an avalanche, proceeding in even more unknown territory is a poor idea. Don’t do it.
Don’t Climb a Tall, Treacherous Mountain for Your First Time
Speaking of mistakes to avoid on your early backcountry adventures, scaling the equivalent of Everest in your area (figuratively speaking, of course) is also not wise. Even if you’ve spent weeks or months training for the trek, it’s easy to get overwhelmed once you realize how far you have to climb and how long it will take you.
It’s not like you can just stop and turn around either. Well, maybe if you absolutely had to, but for the most part, once you commit to ascending a mountain so you can ski down it, you have to do what you promised.
Keep those first backcountry skiing trips manageable. Choose smaller mountains that will pose a lesser degree of difficulty. Then, once you attune yourself to the rigors required of climbing a mountain and skiing down it, you can try a more difficult mountain the next time.
Backcountry skiing lets you get a taste for the open wilderness. Since it’s so unregulated, there’s also a high degree of risk associated with the hobby.
Before you go backcountry skiing, make sure you’re fit and healthy, you bring the right equipment, and you know how to avoid avalanches. Ski with a group, plan where you’ll go, and don’t choose overly difficult skiing sites. Have fun and good luck!