Winter is right around the corner and we could not be more excited! That being said, we have seen a huge increase in the number of backcountry users since the breakout of COVID. With ski resorts being shut down or people simply wanting to escape the crowds, more and more people are flocking to the backcountry. If you are one of those people, we can't stress enough the importance of being properly equipped and prepared before doing so!

Skiing in the backcountry is one of my favorite parts of this sport, but it can also be very dangerous, especially when you don't have the proper knowledge. If you plan on skiing in the backcountry, or outside the bounds of a resort, you must first get educated by attending a certified AIARE avalanche level 1 course. A great idea is to find a backcountry partner to take the class with you because you never want to be by yourself out there. Skiing alone is very dangerous because if something happens, then there is no one out there to help you. Finally, make sure that you check the avalanche conditions and monitor the snowpack in order to avoid skiing when avalanche danger is high. No matter what safety gear you have, if you don't know how to use it or navigate through avalanche terrain, you are putting yourself and others at extreme risk! Therefore, the most important rule of entering the backcountry is to get educated before you go!

When heading out into the backcountry, there is a huge list of gear that you will need to keep yourself warm, make it up and down the hill, and in case of an emergency. That being said, here are three essential tools that you absolutely cannot go into the backcountry without:

1.) Avalanche Beacon: This tool is used to find someone that has been buried in the snow from an avalanche. It works like a GPS tracking system as it indicates the direction of where your buried companion is located. For a beacon to be effective, both people must be wearing one, or it is useless. This is part of the reason why you must always ski with someone when venturing into the backcountry.

2.) Probe: This is used to find the exact location of a person buried in an avalanche. The beacon can only do as much as guide you in the direction of where a person is buried. Once you are in the general vicinity, then you use the probe by submerging it into the snow in hopes that it pokes your buried friend. After you have probed the snow and found the exact location of your friend, then you can begin to dig them out.

3.) Shovel: Both the probe and beacon are useless if you do not have a shovel to dig with. Avalanche shovels are nice because they can fold up and fit into most backpacks, allowing you to ski without being a huge burden. A shovel is a crucial tool in quickly uncovering your buried companion and ultimately saving their life.

These three tools are imperative for backcountry safety, but they are only the bare essentials. There are many other things that you can bring to help protect yourself in the case of an emergency. When heading out into the backcountry, you should try and equip your backpack with the necessary items that would allow you to survive for at least one night, even though you may not be planning to be out that long. Mother nature is unpredictable and you never know what could go wrong while skiing in the backcountry. Therefore, the better prepared you are for the unknown variables, the better chance you have of surviving. You also may want to consider investing in an avalanche airbag as an added safety precaution.

Overall, the backcountry is a great part of our sport and should be taken advantage of. It’s awesome to get out into areas where no one else is around. Just make sure if you do decide to venture outside the bounds of the resort, that you have the proper knowledge, and are equipped with the necessary safety tools! Stop in the Chief today to get all the backcountry essentials you will need for your next time out!