10 (more) Commandments of the Backcountry Skier, ver 14.27

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | March 16, 2015      
Carry low profile goggles and remember your beacon batteries.

Always bring goggles, remember your beacon batteries and apply the golden rule to all situations.

1. All ski pants shall be black.

2. All vehicles shall be AWD or 4×4.

3. Beacons shall never check below 75% battery power. Whip out your transceiver for a rescue in cold temps, immediately lose a huge amount of battery power. Then switch to receive and suck up the remainder. Next, throw away your bricked beacon and start probing way too late to save a life. In other words, keep batteries fresh.

4. During summer, climbing skins shall be stored in freezer, with release strips. If you freezer is full of frozen peas and smoothie bananas, at least store in the dark at cool temperatures.

5. Avalanche airbag backpack shall (nearly) always be worn. Just like clipping the seatbelt in your truck. BUT, know that somewhere around 11% of folks with airbags, caught in avalanches, fail to trigger their balloon. Practice! If necessary rig an easy-pull system using some webbing or cord.

6. A thermos bottle with hot drink shall always be carried. Place this at number 1 if wives or girlfriends are involved. Sexist, yes, but reality is reality and payback is real.

7. Goggles shall be remembered. Even for sunny nice days. Wind happens; gravel and ice chunks are not appreciated by your corneas. Hint: If you find you tend to keep your goggles in your rucksack most of the time, shop around for lower volume “low profile” versions or junior size (but always with double lens to prevent fogging).

8. Beacons shall be switched on when put on. But check anyway.

9. Weather and avalanche forecast shall always be checked. Makes for better conversation during the drive than your choice in quickstop burritos.

10. Socks shall always be wool. I’ve tried it all. Wool is always better.

11. With due respect to spiritual teachers of yore, the golden rule actually works pretty well for ski touring life. Yes, it does go to ELEVEN, commentators, your commandments?



51 Responses to “10 (more) Commandments of the Backcountry Skier, ver 14.27”

  1. Jong doe March 16th, 2015 9:57 am

    “5. Avalanche airbag backpack shall (nearly) always be worn. Just like clipping the seatbelt in your truck. BUT, know that somewhere around 11% of folks with airbags, caught in avalanches, fail to trigger their balloon. Practice. If necessary rig an easy-pull system using some webbing or cord.”

    If you have an airbag that stows the handle when not in use, make sure to get in the habit of taking it out at the beginning of the tour. What good is that $1000 airbag pack if the handle is stowed away when you need it most?

  2. UltraDave March 16th, 2015 10:14 am

    Thou shalt have duct tape!

    The size and complexity of repair and first aid kits is always a debate, but what can be the excuse for not having at least 3′ of the 100MPH stuff somewhere on your ski pole, person or pack? With all the Commandments, it’s important not to forget the law – Murphy’s Law.

  3. Lou Dawson 2 March 16th, 2015 11:10 am

    Jong, it doesn’t sound like you are a jong. Lou

  4. dave March 16th, 2015 11:48 am

    Why should pants always be black???

  5. Darren Jakal March 16th, 2015 11:49 am

    If this a troll, it’s working.

  6. Sky March 16th, 2015 11:54 am

    Based on pants, beacons, skin treatment, FrWD car, esp airbag, sounds like I shalt not ski with thou.

  7. Rob March 16th, 2015 1:56 pm

    In addition to what UltraDave said, along with duct tape – Voile straps, headlamp and lighter shall always be in pack

  8. Jernej March 16th, 2015 2:23 pm

    Car is irellevant as long as it gets you uphill. I`ve gone up inclines in a fwd car on summer tires where an F150 in 4×4 mode just spun its wheels hopelessly. Technique counts for much on winter roads. Good tires count much more. And if not there are always chains to get you out.

    Wool socks… unconvinced. I tried going mixed using 1 merino & 1 coolmax sock. Same manufacturer, type and everything except the yarn. Absolutely no difference at all.

  9. Hayduke March 16th, 2015 3:25 pm

    I’ve winched more Subaru’s and SUV’s out of snowy ditches in the mountains than front wheel drive sedans/wagons. Actually knowing how to drive is the key, not letting your AWD do it for you. I’m as comfortable driving my wife’s front wheel drive wagon as I am my diesel 4×4 p/u with snow tires and winch on snowy/icy roads. Perhaps it should be “Thou shalt not try to use thy brakes on slick mountain roads.” Also, airbag packs gotta go (and to a large part beacons). They are becoming (have become?), more and more, tools of irresponsibility. The inclinometer is the essential piece of bc safety gear, after the brain. Further, we live in a culture of fear, and it is extremely lucrative. It’s easy to be lulled into forgetting that freedom is the greatest good, not safety.

  10. Lou Dawson 2 March 16th, 2015 3:49 pm

    Good point about freedom. Some race car driver said if he wanted to be safe he could spend his life soaking in a warm bath, but then, he said, he’d already be dead. On the other hand, there is the question of striking a balance between risk and reward… Lou

  11. Lou Dawson 2 March 16th, 2015 3:51 pm

    Someone asked why pants should be black? Because if you’re a real skier without 10 pair (and not a pro blogger with 15, he he), whatever color they are will eventually become black anyway, only sometimes with a nauseating pattern of various food accidents or worse. Might as well buy them pre-dyed. Lou

  12. Lou Dawson 2 March 16th, 2015 3:55 pm

    What, me troll? Our traffic already shuts down the server on occasion (grin). Lou

  13. Hayduke March 16th, 2015 4:22 pm

    Lou, the balancing of risk vs reward is on my mind more and more lately. Pushing 40 and playing at ski mountaineering, I’m asking myself, “If I need an ice ax and crampons to get up this thing, should I be skiing down it? Do I want to?” When solitude, mountain beauty and exercise are the best rewards, skiing extreme/avy terrain may be an unnecessary risk…

  14. Scott Nelson March 16th, 2015 4:31 pm

    Call me a wuss, but that’s why I do the majority of BC skiing/ Ski mntrng in the Spring, just way safer.

    And Lou, why put skins in the freezer? I’m guessing to preserve the glue?

  15. Andy Carey March 16th, 2015 6:22 pm

    LOL. Skins in freezer in summer–but in PNW we ski all summer into the fall, sometimes then too.

    I love these comments about AWD/4WD: given equal driver talent (and, importantly experience and wisdom), equivalent tires, and a choice between 2wd, AWD, and 4WD, I would be more than willing to wager that a smart AWD outperforms the other two across the range of winter road conditions. The most expert winter driver in a 2WD can not compete with the next most expert driver in a smart AWD, especially with a manual or ability to switch to manual, and with downhill speed control. 4WD rule in deep snow and mud, with the proper tires and a competent driver, but are a PITA when the surface keeps changing from dry-black ice-wet-compact snow-etc. Put an idiot behind the wheel of any vehicle and all bets are off; put city/touring tires on any vehicle and all bets are off; put on Toyo Observes, Michelin Ice, or Hakkepelitta with studs and it depends on the conditions.

  16. See March 16th, 2015 7:16 pm

    Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of commandments, (especially regarding what color pants I should wear), but here’s my suggestion: don’t try and save weight by skimping on water.

  17. Max March 16th, 2015 8:11 pm

    Wow, thou hast forgotten the one sacred commandment: “I shalt never ski alone in the BC”. Or is this simply not the norm in the US anymore?

  18. Lou Dawson 2 March 16th, 2015 8:32 pm

    It could be the refrigerator also, just keeping them colder so the glue is more chemically inert. If you choose to do this, be sure to stick them in a plastic bag so they don’t sit there absorbing all sorts of moisture or ice over the months… I’ve got too many skins for this to be practical, but I’ve heard of many people doing it, especially in hot climates. Lou

  19. XXX_er March 16th, 2015 8:41 pm

    re black ski pants: if you mess up on the route finding black is formal enough to go from slab to coffin quite nicely

  20. Jim Knight March 16th, 2015 11:21 pm

    1. Confession: I have an extra fridge that’s half full of skins. It’s a sickness.
    2. Hot tip: thermos of miso soup.
    3. Darn Tough merino ski socks? Nuff said.
    4. Why black pants? No one (except you) really wants to see your ass in color.

  21. ptor March 17th, 2015 12:05 am

    Skin savers/release strips should all be recycled into bikini material. Sinners swing!!!!

  22. Matt March 17th, 2015 12:07 am


    Usually I agree with your BC suggestions, but Ill wear green pants until the day no one makes them in an acceptable color of green. Two reasons, when skiing inbounds (to get to OB laps cause Im lazy and like lifts) the people I ski with never lose me. Second, Ive been told by multiple people that my bright pants are easy to follow on low visibility days (very unscientific). The second reason doesn’t help me, but skiing with partners is a team activity and if they feel safer, Ill stick with it.

    Smart AWD with snow tires has not failed me so far. No matter how your car is propelled, if you drive with your brain, and understanding the benefits and risks of all 4 (dare we add in RWD to FWD, AWD and 4×4), you can be successful and stay out of ditches.

    Wool socks.

    Beacon on in the car, off in the bar and carry extra batteries for when you forget to turn it off in the bar and get to it two weeks later at 47%. Lesson learned…

    Always check the avi forecast and weather. Just because the last 6 weeks in the Tetons were low danger, doesn’t mean it won’t be tomorrow moderate/high. Pay attention!

    Rule 12: Thou shall not leave your brain at home.

  23. gringo March 17th, 2015 5:25 am

    Thou shalt at least once in your life give the nanny state the finger and BC ski alone / naked / on acid / or any number of other things that ‘they’ tell you not to do.

    makes for great experiences and even better stories.

  24. Splitskier March 17th, 2015 5:52 am

    Agreed with some of the above– snow tires seems a way more meaningful commandment!

  25. Pablo March 17th, 2015 6:08 am

    # at the begining of the seasson, ski at least one day on piste, lift served.
    Yeah I’know, we’re talking about BC skiing but…

    You can train your aerobics all days off seasson, even, you can train ascents without snow by hiking, but you can’t train the down.

    Every BC skier should ski one day per seasson on piste because it allows you to practice a large number of descents in one only day to reach a better level of skills on the down.
    And it makes you a better and Safer BC skier

  26. Bobby March 17th, 2015 6:16 am

    #14 Listen to Gringo

  27. dave March 17th, 2015 7:55 am

    Black no good in trees for safety issues. I don’t care what other people like or don’t like to see my ass in, that’s their problem.

  28. Pablo March 17th, 2015 8:00 am

    I also don’t like black or dark pants or jackets.
    Vivid colors are besto and safer options to me.
    Yes, it gets darker with dirt, but it helps others to indentify you and to be seen by you.
    and looks much better on potos!! (grin)

  29. Jim Milstein March 17th, 2015 8:44 am

    Solo BC skiing can be safer since there is no herd mentality, no showing off. The solo skier is not distracted by social interactions. The solo skier does not think a beacon will save him/her.

    I agree that a clinometer (or lots of experience with one) is very important for safety. Carry a clinometer. My favorite is the Suunto PM-5. It’s fast and easy to use, both for sighting and in profile, and very accurate. Gravity powered.

    For communication and navigation safety, some of the best items now available are the inReach models, which work anywhere the sky is visible.

  30. Kevin S March 17th, 2015 8:57 am

    Gringo nailed it and I lived that motto through my twenties and early thirties! Skiing alone heightens the senses and offers less noise from group think! But in my fifties, I actually like skiing with a few others and live by one simple commandment from the pre reliable beacon and airbag days: Check the ego at the trailhead and live to ski another day while reminiscing about the early days of backcountry skiing before the technology supported mindset clouded gut instinct.

  31. Lou Dawson 2 March 17th, 2015 8:59 am

    I’d agree Jim. I wouldn’t call solo skiing entirely off the program, but it needs to be practiced well. How appropriate depends on a million factors. Thing is, I see quite a few solo skiers who don’t seem to be very careful. More like they’re “solo” but they just happen to be skiing where there are still a bunch of other people. That’s ok, so long as they acknowledge they’re depending on bystanders for companion rescue. And these days, any solo skier should be carrying a comm device. Not doing so means you’re at risk of instigating a major search operation if you’re hurt and immobile, involving sometimes hundreds of people. And at least tell someone where you’re going, the saddest is when SAR spends half a day just looking for your car so they know what trailhead you left from…

  32. Aaron March 17th, 2015 9:49 am

    Re: solo skiing

    My solo skiing consists of no or extremely low avalanche risk: mostly bushwacking trail layout and limb cutting or fitness laps. Who would want to join me for trail layout anyway?

    Always carry my SPOT on in my pocket and vhf close at hand for injury.

  33. Jim Milstein March 17th, 2015 10:04 am

    More about inReach, Lou.

    I send, at minimum, inReach messages leaving from and returning to the trailhead each day out. Furthermore, my “minders” can ping the inReach and get my current location without me doing anything. And, there’s the SOS function on the device if I need help and am able to push a button.

    The inReach can text other inReaches, so it functions something like a radio for group communication, but with no distance or line of sight restrictions. Also, no annoying radio noises.

    I use it too for its GPS nav info via Bluetooth to an iPod Touch. Using the Gaia GPS app I get a very good live topo/aerial-photo map with all the trimmings.

    The cheapest plan, which I use, costs US$12/month, billed each month.

  34. Jason Speer March 17th, 2015 10:52 am

    The number of driven wheels debate is kind of funny to me. I’ve been driving up to Mt. Baker ski area for the last 19 years or so and have always been the happiest in a small FWD car with good snow tires. My last car was an Audi A4 avant with good Blizzaks and currently my driveway has a Golf with snows and a 3/4t truck with Duratracs. If I’m headed to the ski area I’ll always take the Golf. If I’m headed out to a non-maintained trailhead then I’ll take the truck.

    It takes a lot of skill from a driver to take advantage of the added traction from AWD on slippery roads, mostly getting a car to rotate into the corner and giving it more accel pedal to pull through to the inside. That’s not a move I’d recommend on the street. All cars have brakes at all 4 corners and all cars steer with the front.

    My opinion quickly changes when the road conditions demand clearance or we’re talking about very slow, low traction conditions or if your favorite mountain pass actually enforces chain laws on 2wd vehicles.

  35. Lou Dawson 2 March 17th, 2015 11:07 am
  36. Jim Sogi March 17th, 2015 1:39 pm

    In a comparison with summer tires on AWD and snow tires on 2WD, snow tires made the most difference in snow and performed much much better than AWD with summer tires. The best is AWD with snow tires. 2WD with snow tires beats AWD with summer tires on snow by a long shot. Its the snow tires that makes the biggest difference. The new rubber formulations are supposed to be really good, and I sure noticed this with a rental AWD with snow tires in Japan. Really gripped the snow, both up and braking.

  37. Lou Dawson 2 March 17th, 2015 1:48 pm

    Some summer tires can be nearly impossible on snow and ice. Our little Nissan Versa, front wheel drive, does pretty well with agro snow tires, (but doesn’t have enough ground clearance for backcountry ski access around here). I ran it with the summer tires at the beginning of winter, they type of meats with a solid rubber strip in the middle for ultra low noise and least rolling resistance. The thing would barely get out of the driveway and I coasted like hockey puck through several stop signs on the way to the tire store. Frantic brake pumping and antilock did nothing. The car just slid along like is was the best day of its soon to be short life. Good illustration of where four wheel drive or AWD are meaningless, and tires are everything. Driving skill had no effect — I’ve even been through winter driving school… Lou

  38. Patrick March 17th, 2015 2:25 pm

    4WD, AWD, or old rear-motor VW Beetle with all-season tires.

  39. Jim Milstein March 17th, 2015 2:40 pm

    Here’s a weather report service for the inReach, courtesy of Martin le Roux in Boulder CO, which works for the entire US and 11,000 peaks worldwide.


    Wx2inReach is very useful for longer excursions to the wild or in rapidly changing weather. I’ve tested it and found it easy to use. The reports are heavily abbreviated but intelligible; they have to be concise to fit much in a 160 character inReach text message. The Details page tells all. It’s free except for whatever your inReach service plan charges for messages, which could be nothing.

  40. Kristian March 17th, 2015 8:41 pm

    This is my first Winter on 4 studded tires. DuraTrac – 285/75R16. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Quiet on the highways. Firm sure grip on steep icy snowy Colorado passes. Never had to consider using diff lock, air lockers, chains, or winch…

  41. drew March 18th, 2015 2:41 am

    for Gringo…I had some friends who skied 10,000 vert on acid in the Fairy Meadows hut in BC. Incredibly these are responsible middle aged men. They had the most entertaining stories I have ever heard.

  42. gringo March 18th, 2015 5:26 am

    I will add that I primarily ski solo now as an avoidance measure. It helps me avoid shitty ego driven partners and helps me avoid reliving the days of my youth on the steep and technical terrain that, while still incredibly alluring, is not ‘worth it’ for me anymore.
    Also, I feel comfortable making these terrain decisions for solo trips after having spent the past 30 years skiing and climbing with some amazing partners and developing my skills.

    In my original post I should have also added that you should at least once, pack some tasty treats a blanket and a bit of wine and enjoy a sunny wilderness intermezzo with the lady friend, which should be followed by powder turns of course.

  43. drew March 19th, 2015 4:03 am

    gringo…couldn’t agree more! Sunny wilderness intermezzo…a phrase I will plagiarize in the near future.

  44. Hojo March 19th, 2015 1:49 pm

    Thou shall not put a beacon on a dog.

  45. Wilson March 20th, 2015 11:11 am

    Thou shall first try to avoid avalanche terrain with their dog and put a Pieps TX600 Dog Transmitter on their dog.

  46. Tabke March 20th, 2015 1:21 pm

    I will not take the bait I will not take the bait I will not take the bait I will not take the bait

  47. Lou Dawson 2 March 20th, 2015 1:58 pm

    Oh come on Drew, go for it!

  48. Hojo March 20th, 2015 3:03 pm

    I’ll amend that to a “standard” beacon 🙂

  49. Tabke March 22nd, 2015 11:52 pm

    Okey doke

    1) There is no such thing as starting too early.
    2) Eat hearty breakfast and drink a ton of water before starting. Stay hydrated all day.
    3) Lightweight is the right weight.
    4) Travel the speed of your slowest group member, and set a skintracks according to the equipment and skill level of your partners.
    5) Protect ya neck (with good sunscreen and a buff)
    6) Know your surroundings – having everyone google earth-flyover the destination the night before is great.
    7) Be expert with as much applicable rescue and safety equipment as possible, elect appropriate equipment for each outing, discuss and coordinate w group.
    8) Check historic, current, and predicted weather and snowpack for your destination.
    9) Ski top to bottom, or at least island to island. Don’t crash.
    10) Have fun.

    Ps saw Louie at Drake’s hangar this afternoon, sounded like they were going straight in!

  50. Lou Dawson 2 March 23rd, 2015 6:24 am

    Thanks Drew, everyone up there, be safe and have fun!

  51. Lou Dawson 2 March 23rd, 2015 6:26 am

    I’m always learning something around here. I like the Google Earth flyover idea, and protecting the neck. Good to hear Drew has such a terrific list. Lou

  Your Comments

  Recent Posts

Facebook Twitter Email Instagram Youtube

WildSnow Twitter Feed


  • Blogroll & Links

  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free ski touring news and information here.

    All material on this website is copyrighted, the name WildSnow is trademarked, permission required for reproduction (electronic or otherwise) and display on other websites. PLEASE SEE OUR COPYRIGHT and TRADEMARK INFORMATION.

    We include "affiliate sales" links with most of our blog posts. This means we receive a percentage of a sale if you click over from our site (at no cost to you). None of our affiliate commission links are direct relationships with specific gear companies or shopping carts, instead we remain removed by using a third party who manages all our affiliate sales and relationships. We also sell display "banner" advertising, in this case our relationships are closer to the companies who advertise, but our display advertising income is carefully separated financially and editorially from our blog content, over which we always maintain 100% editorial control -- we make this clear during every advertising deal we work out. Please also notice we do the occasional "sponsored" post, these are under similar financial arrangements as our banner advertising, only the banner or other type of reference to a company are included in the blog post, simply to show they provided financial support to WildSnow.com and provide them with advertising in return. Unlike most other "sponsored content" you find on the internet, our sponsored posts are entirely under our editorial control and created by WildSnow specific writers.See our full disclosures here.

    Backcountry skiing is dangerous. You may be killed or severely injured if you do any form of ski mountaineering, skimo randonnee and randonnée skiing. The information and news on this website is intended only as general information. Due to human error and passing time, the information, text and images contained within this website may be inaccurate, false, or out-of-date. By using, reading or viewing the information provided on this website, you agree to absolve the owners of Wild Snow as well as content contributors of any liability for injuries or losses incurred while using such information. Furthermore, you agree to use any of this website's information, maps, photos, or binding mounting instructions templates at your own risk, and waive Wild Snow owners and contributors of liability for use of said items for ski touring or any other use.

    Switch To Mobile Version