How To Prepare For Ski Touring

Post by blogger | September 22, 2015      

Sarah Carpenter

It’s mid-September and photos of the South American ski season are everywhere. Between these images and the change in weather, I’m thinking about winter. The hardest part of each winter season for me is knocking off the rust and getting ready for another year of ski touring. Therefore, here are a few prepping strategies for the upcoming snow season:

1. Take advantage of continuing education opportunities.
Each fall, avalanche centers, in conjunction with the American Avalanche Association, put on 1-day snow and avalanche workshops. These workshops are an excellent jump-start for winter prep, safe backcountry skiing travel techniques, tips and tricks for stability assessment, and a reminder of where to find information. You can quiz meteorologists and forecasters about what El Niño is going to mean for your ski season while you check out the latest and greatest in ski gear, shovels, probes and backpacks.

Here’s a list of this fall’s workshops in the United States. If you know of any others please comment and we’ll add:

Oct. 9 — Colorado Snow and Avalanche Workshop, Breckenridge, CO
Oct. 17 — Northern Rockies Avalanche Safety Workshop, Whitefish, MT
Oct. 17 — California Avalanche Workshop, South Lake Tahoe, CA
Oct. 31 — Utah Snow and Avalanche Workshop, Salt Lake City, UT
Nov. 6 — Southcentral Alaska Avalanche Workshop, Anchorage, AK
Nov. 7 — Wyoming Snow and Avalanche Workshop, Jackson, WY
Nov. 7 — Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop, Bartlett, NH
Nov. 8 — Northwest Snow and Avalanche Summit, Seattle, WA

2. Take your gear out of the closet and check it over.
Probes can crack, shovels can bend, transceivers can corrode. Check your gear before you even think about traveling in a winter mountain environment. Here’s what I look for:

  • Probe poles: Check each section for cracks, check the cable to make sure it still works and that it’s not frayed, and make sure all sections of the probe sit together cleanly.
  • Shovel: Ensure the handle extends smoothly and fits easily into the blade. Verify the buttons work and rebound when you push them. Check the welds of the blade to ensure there are no cracks or weaknesses. Check the general condition of the blade. Is it bent or folded? Is it cracked? If it is, replace it.
  • Avalanche transceiver: During the off-season, your transceiver should be in a dry location with the batteries removed. When you pull your transceiver out for the season, check the battery terminals for corrosion and rust. If you find corrosion or residue from leaving in your batteries (you didn’t!), clean terminals with an old toothbrush and pencil eraser. Make sure the terminal springs are in place and not cracked and that batteries sit well in the case. When installing batteries rotate them and move them around a bit on the terminals to break away any small corrosion deposits. Let your beacon run through a self-check and verify all is good. And as for those batteries, unless your transceiver indicates that you can use lithium batteries (most do not), use alkaline batteries. Before you travel in the backcountry, do a function and range check.
  • 3) Put together a first aid kit and repair kit.
    S*!t happens in the backcountry. You want to be prepared. Taking the time to put together repair kits for people and gear is an effective way to begin thinking about winter. Consider what you can’t improvise and what you can. This is how I streamline my ski touring kits.

    Essential pieces in my repair and first aid kit include:

  • Multi tool
  • Fire starter
  • Lighter
  • Headlamp
  • P-cord; thin accessory cord
  • Ski straps (wonder fix for a variety of broken pieces)
  • Duct tape
  • Boot rivet (or a screw, a washer, and a lock nut)
  • Binding repair (screws, plumbers putty, steel wool)
  • Large hose clamp (if all else fails, clamp boot to ski/board).
  • Medical tape
  • Steri strips (can be improvised from duct tape, but better to use sterile items, they weigh nothing)
  • Ibuprofen
  • Benadryl
  • Gloves
  • Pocket mask
  • Foot repair – moleskin, mole foam, 2nd skin
  • (Extended first-aid and repair kit should include airways and a few doses of your personal prescription drugs. Remember that most first aid items can easily be improvised so don’t go overboard. For example, splints can be fashioned from a variety of equipment and backpack parts, neck collars can be fashioned from foam pads or rucksack waist belts.)

    4) Start tracking the weather. If you live near the mountains, take pictures of the peaks when the snow begins to fall. These photos can help you track the snow that sticks around (and could be problematic) and the snow that melts before winter truly sets in.

    First snowfall on Mt. Glory, Wyoming.

    First snowfall on Mt. Glory, Wyoming.

    Eight days later, and the only snow left is on the northern aspect at high elevations.

    Mt. Glory eight days later, and the only snow left is on the northern aspect at high elevations.

    Early season snowfall was covered for the season on October 29.  The north-facing facets that developed early season caused problems later in the season.  Knowing where the facets were and where they melted was an important tool for safe travel.

    Early snowfall on Mt. Glory was covered for 2013/2014 on October 29. The north-facing facets that developed early season caused problems later. Knowing where the facets were and where they melted was an important tool for safe travel.

    5) Go to avalanche center and search and rescue fundraisers. Help those organizations get ready for winter. They need our support and we need them to keep doing what they’re doing.

    6) Sign up for an avalanche safety course. If you took a course recently, sign up for a refresher or the next level of training. If it’s been years since you took a course, take another one. The tools, information, and presentation styles have changed in the last few years. Check it out!

    (WildSnow Guest blogger Sarah Carpenter has spent most of her life on skis. She is the co-owner of the American Avalanche Institute and an AMGA certified ski guide. She lives in a strawbale house with her husband, Don, in Victor, ID. A year spent building a house convinced Sarah that backcountry skiing, climbing, and working in the outdoors is easier than working in construction.)


    Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


    13 Responses to “How To Prepare For Ski Touring”

    1. Dave Erskine September 22nd, 2015 9:31 am

      List of AIARE classes at

    2. Jerry Johnson September 22nd, 2015 10:58 am

      Bozeman is having its first and hopefully annual SAW on Nov 11. The theme is decision making and communication. Website should be up this week and will be:

      Event is free and includes a beacon-fest in the afternoon and an evening speaker. Cheers

    3. Jake Hutchinson September 22nd, 2015 2:02 pm
    4. Lisa Dawson September 22nd, 2015 4:37 pm

      I like the tip about taking photos early in the season to figure out where facets may form later. Clever!

    5. Sarah Carpenter September 22nd, 2015 5:12 pm

      Thanks, Lisa. It’s been a great tool for years with early season snow. I’ve even gone so far as to draw in areas of concern on topo maps or area photos.

    6. Lorne September 23rd, 2015 4:30 am

      Airbag testing? Discuss.

    7. Lou Dawson 2 September 23rd, 2015 5:23 am

      Sarah, your point about attention to early facet snow crystal development is key. Nice illustrations. I can think of two or three places around here in Colorado, exact spots where fatal avalanches were triggered, that can be easily identified by how early snowfalls stick. Another thing that’s almost too obvious is you can ID these same spots by observing areas where northerly shadows tend to linger. Sometimes it’s remarkable how these shadows will almost perfectly mark a starting zone someone skied into and got killed. Nature communicates, we only have to listen…

    8. David September 23rd, 2015 10:24 am

      California Avalanche Workshop 10/17, South Lake Tahoe, CA

    9. Sarah Carpenter September 23rd, 2015 10:53 am

      It’s definitely worth giving your airbag a once over…make sure it’s in good shape, all the buckles still work, and deploy it before the season starts. If you practice deploying your airbag, I would recommend doing so while someone is trying to tackle you. This is a better simulation than just standing in your living room and calmly deploying it.

    10. rich September 24th, 2015 7:01 am

      Not long now…
      Was wondering what your thoughts were on this avi float which has gotten a few updates over the years..

    11. jw7 September 24th, 2015 9:28 am

      Great stuff about seasonal recon of your planned routes, and seasonal weather tracking.

    12. jw7 September 24th, 2015 9:33 am

      Google Earth has a great feature that shows the sunshine/shade on route aspects and yon can even enter a specific date to see it for that time of year.

    13. Anne Anderson October 7th, 2015 11:20 am

      Great suggestions and love the AAI website.

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