Winter is almost here. For many Canadians, this means dusting off the skis and hitting the slopes. Backcountry skiing guide Cam McLellan offers up his top five safety tips for skiing in the backcountry.
Research Your Backcountry Skiing Trip
Regardless of whether you’re heading out on your first backcountry skiing tour or a massive couloir, one thing is for sure: the more you know about where you’re headed, the safer you’ll be during the day. Looking over maps, gathering intel from friends and researching local areas before your trip will make it both efficient and safe.
Get the Right Gear
Having the right gear makes the difference when backcountry skiing. Everything from your preferred method of travel to your emergency gear will set you up for success. Three things I always have in my pack:
- inReach Explorer two-way satellite communicator
- Shovel, beacon and probe
- First aid kit
The DeLorme inReach Explorer lets you communicate with the outside world no matter where you are. Whether you want to let your family know that you’re going to be late for dinner or you’re in real need of serious help (stranded on the side of a mountain with a storm rolling in). Either way, the inReach is a vital lifeline that lives in my pack year round.
Never enter the backcountry without a shovel, beacon and probe along with the knowledge of how to use them.
In addition, a simple first aid kit can go a long way in an emergency situation.
In the backcountry you may encounter something you don’t expect. A broken piece of gear, a change in the weather or a change in conditions are all factors that could affect the safety of the group. Having the flexibility to shift your objective or just call it off due to safety concerns is important. Being able to recognize when it’s time to pull the plug on your adventure will lead to a long and successful backcountry skiing or snowboarding career.
Plan for The Worst
Being prepared to spend the night outdoors and deal with an emergency is very important, particularly in a harsh winter environment. Obviously you can’t bring everything with you, but being prepared with extra gear will go a long way in making a bad day at least comfortable. If your pack becomes too heavy, split it up among your group. Three things I never leave home without:
- Extra food
- Extra clothing
- Emergency shelter
Having some extra food in case you have to spend the night will make the experience more manageable.
Don’t forget to pack extra clothing. A down jacket, Gore-Tex jacket, toque and gloves should be the bare minimum.
Be prepared with an emergency shelter. This may be a small tarp or bivy bag that fits all members of your group and will keep you dry while you wait out the storm.
Knowledge is Power
I can’t stress this point enough. Get educated. Take an avalanche course. Know what to do in case of emergency. The backcountry is an extremely dynamic environment, especially in the winter. As a professional ski guide, I must always be aware of the latest information related to snowpack, terrain and risk of avalanches. Being educated will not only keep you safe, it will also help make your trip more enjoyable.
Cam is an ACMG ski guide and professional backcountry athlete. He has guided and skied all over the world and is passionate about what he does. “As far as I’m concerned, I’ve yet to work a day in my life,” says Cam. “Getting paid to do what you love is the ultimate.”
Follow Cam on Instagram.