alpine touring
Credit: David Webb

Are you looking to get started in backcountry skiing or snowboarding this year? Here are some vital tips to get you on your way: 

The Gear

There are three choices for descending in the backcountry: telemark, alpine touring or snowboarding. Regardless, all rely on climbing skins for the climb up.

Telemark

A heavy-duty binding holds only the toe, allowing for easy moving in flattish terrain, but requires more skill, strength and balance for efficient downhill turning.

Alpine Touring

Essentially the same as downhill skiing, except specialized touring bindings release the heel on the uphills for easy climbing.

Snowboarding

The same as you see at the resort on the way down. On the way up, snowshoes have gone out of style in favour of splitboards, which split into two skis for climbing then click back together for riding down.

Climbing Skins

Cut to the shape of the skis or splitboard, skins stick to the bottom of the skis via a specialized glue. Like a dog's coat, the hairs on a pair of skins slide smoothly in one direction, but catch in the other, digging into the snow to allow skiers and boarders to climb uphill without sliding backwards. At the top, the skins peel off without leaving behind residue, for smooth sliding pleasure.

The Skills

The Tele Turn

The key to turning in soft snow on two sticks is even weight distribution — it’s true for alpine, and doubly so for telemark skiing. Without putting almost equal amount of weight on both skis, one will wander and send you face-first into the snow. To achieve this equal pressure, start with the proper telemark stance.

Front/outside foot: knee slightly bent, back curled, hands forward with shoulders over knee and knee over toes. Back/inside foot: heel lifted and foot tucked under bum.

In this position, it's natural to put more pressure on the front foot, which is fine on groomed runs, but once you hit untracked terrain you need to even up the pressure. To help, push down on the ball of your inside foot.

Setting a Skin Track

There's an art to efficient climbing and it doesn't involve hairpin turns, tracking straight up or meandering like a honeybee. Efficient climbers use the terrain, linking ramps, small flat spots and safe pockets of terrain, while avoiding dense trees, cliffs and other danger zones to get to the top quickly.

They also tend to climb at an angle of 12 to 15 degrees. Try it for yourself next time you're breaking trail: find a climbing angle that feels comfortable and try to maintain it. Meanwhile, look for the route in front of you, constantly shifting your eyes from far ahead, to a little ways ahead, to just ahead, always planning where your path will go, where you'll turn and how you'll get through the next stand of trees. Travelling like this, you should be able to avoid kick turns or getting stuck on difficult terrain, which means you'll get to the top faster and maybe get in another run.