Last week, an article in the Wall Street Journal dubbed backcountry skiing the “sport of Covid winter”. The article goes on to offer tips on how to get started and insists “You needn’t be a daredevil to go backcountry skiing — just willing to clomp up a hill”.
Not to be outdone, the New York Times published their own beginners guide just 24 hours later titled “It’s the Winter of Backcountry: Here’s How to Start Safely”. It offers basic tips for getting your ski boot in the proverbial backcountry door, including hiring a guide, taking an avalanche course — basically the fundamental starting points we’ve been encouraging for years.
We thought these articles came up severely short on preparing newbs for the practicalities of their next favorite hobby, so we resurrected this old satire to provide another kind of beginners guide. The beginners guide to all the things you’ll mess up when you start ski touring. We’ve all been there!
Congratulations, you’re a beginner! Never again will you experience such enormous leaps in progression. From accumulating gear, to linking turns, you are taking huge strides into a brave new world of exploration.
As you move forward, it is crucial to take a few key missteps to verify the vector of your progress.
1. Buy clunky gear
You’re still not entirely sure about the difference between frame bindings and tech bindings, or what all the fuss is about fast & light gear. Since you plan to get in a fair amount of training runs at the resort, all the brodudes will tell you how much burlier frame bindings are for sending like the pros with names you can barely pronounce. Beginner status notwithstanding, you don’t want to be held back from hucking cliffs at any point in the future, so go with the setup that feels like Mafia dock party shoes. By the time you can make it up the skin track without getting lost, you will understand whatever “fast & light” means; it is not the gear you have.
2. Layer in cotton
The first time you check out prices on zooty underwear, it will give you sticker shock. So go ahead and tackle the peak in your favorite thermal waffle Wally World long johns, tattered frat party shirt, and treasured cotton hoody. On the way up the skin track, you will generate as much precipitation as the last storm cycle, and freeze solid as East Coast ice on your way down. You now have a much keener grasp of the factors behind weather patterns.
3. Go out too early
It’s your sophomore year of skiing. You are so stoked on the progress you made last year, you head out the first time snow falls on your local mountain. Congratulations, you have now added rock skis to your quiver.
4. Go out too late
Take a lazy day, sleep in, have a leisurely breakfast, don’t hit the skin track before 10:30 on a warm spring day. The snow glopping onto the bottom of your skis will amp your ski touring workout up to burn off the extra calories, and possibly the booze if a hangover was a motivating factor for sleeping in. By the time you make it to the top, you will understand how heat exhaustion can become a factor on snow.
5. Use snowshoes
Posthole the daylights out of the skin track like Allied bombers over Berlin. Digging yourself out of craters as sweat runs down your armpits will seem like a natural part of the backcountry experience of “earning your turns” until you see someone glide by on skinning gear, effortless as an albatross, while you wallow along with all the efficiency of a mastodon crossing a tar pit.
6. Bring too much gear
Find the most gluttonous pack in your collection, stuff it with every winter-related piece of gear you can find, including enough snacks & goodies to hold a Girl Scout bake sale. The reassuring heft will make you feel prepared for Arctic exploration, and serve notice to everyone that you know what you are doing. Perspiration oozing out of your pores will remind you to drink fluids. The guy in his mid-60’s on tele gear, provisioned with nothing more than a fanny pack, and sporty Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes who briskly passes you on the skin up with a cheery, “Thanks for breaking trail!” is probably suffering from mild dementia.
7. Wear pants instead of bibs
You don’t want to look like Farmer John or Fisherman Fred, so suit up in some baggy hand-me-downs that look like what all the park rats have dangling around their ankles. The first time you crash & slide down the slope headfirst, your pants will fill with snow, and sag even lower. You are now “steezy.”
8. Emphasize the “y” when pronouncing “Dynafit,” instead of a long “e”
This is an excellent method for learning to identify gear snobs. The more afflicted will not let you finish your sentence, or even get to the next word without an emphatic correction. Keep these people in mind when you don’t want to be bothered with searching the Internet, and would rather just ask someone, “What is the difference between Brand X, and Brand Y?”
9. Ski powder with groomer techniques
Easiest way to get that “Faceshots all day long, bru!” look.
10. Forget the essentials
Leave those boots in walk mode and learn the hard way how leather boots used to feel. Forget your avalanche beacon (or batteries), shovel, probe, or everything in between.
Readers, your newbie nuggets of gold?
Aaron Mattix grew up in Kansas, and wrote a report on snowboarding in seventh grade. His first time to attempt snowboarding was in 2012, and soon switched over to skis for backcountry exploration near his home in Rifle, CO. His skill level is “occasionally makes complete runs without falling.” In the summer, he owns and operates Gumption Trail Works, building mountain bike singletrack, and the occasional sweet jump.