What is the Definition of “Backcountry?”

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | September 18, 2006      

Blog reader Scott brought up a good point (see his comment on previous post) about how the word “backcountry” is gradually creeping into the lexicon of developed ski resorts. Indeed, the word “backcountry” is so popular now it’s a powerful marketing word that’s used in a variety of ways and thus losing specificity. Witness the purchase of the domain name backcountry.com by Backcountry Store in 2004 for $75,000.

My first definition would be that a “backcountry” ski location would be an area without any ski related commercial maintenance such as cutting ski trails, and that it’s not patrolled by the ski patrol (though if close to a ski resort you could still get rescued by the patrol). But like many attempts at definition that’s got plenty of glitches. If a ski resort is closed and you skin up for a run, that could easily be backcountry skiing in my view.

We had this discussion a while back on the original Couloir web forums, and someone said they felt backcountry skiing was simply based on how you felt while making turns. That’s going a bit far for this kid, though perhaps it could be defined by what clothing you wear (smile)?

In all, the definition of “backcountry skiing” is like a lot of things: “I can’t define it in words but I know it when I see it…”

What’s your definition? Comments on!


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7 Responses to “What is the Definition of “Backcountry?””

  1. Carl P September 18th, 2006 8:27 am


    It is an interesting thought for sure. With the advent of Backcountry, Couloir, Powder (as well as more off piste articles in Ski and Skiing) you can be sure that there must be a number of people out there who enjoy the “backcountry.” It’s becoming a buzz word. Dare I say that it is the backcountry is “Starbucks of Skiing”?

    In an article printed in Skiing or Ski awhile back the author listed Teton Pass as the best roadside backcountry ski access in America. Have you been here lately? On any given weekend there are a hundred cars parked in, around and near the top of the pass and a procession of people marching to the top of Mt. Glory. It’s a quick 45 minute walk from the car to the summit. It reminds me much of hiking to the top of Aspen Highlands once the gates to B-1 opened. I think that such areas could amost be redefined as Sidecountry. Not quite frontcountry, but not quite backcountry either. There might be a consideration for “commitment” in the descent.

    Access plays a role too….I saw an article about Tony Hawk snowboarding the backcountry…intriging I thought. I was disappointed to find out all of his backcountry escapades were accessed by helicopter. There’s got to be something said for putting some “effort” into a descent. I don’t want to sound like a snob, but this is my thought.

    I also noticed that when a new guide book comes out…more people tend to flock. For years I enjoyed descents in Rocky Mountain National Park without seeing a soul on some of my favorites. Once Ron Haddad updated his “Indian Peaks Descent Guidebook” some of these quiet nooks and crannies had moguls in the pinches of the runs?! There might be some consideration to the number of people….how does it “feel”….does skiing Tuckerman’s “feel” like a backcountry experience? Maybe for some people who have never had a chance to witness the silence of a remote backcountry setting.

    So maybe the equation should read:

    Backcountry Experience = distance (times) commitment (divided by) number of people.


    who cares….just ski, ride and enjoy!


  2. Roger September 18th, 2006 1:49 pm

    the Webster.com website defines backcountry as:
    Main Entry: back·coun·try
    Pronunciation: -“k&n-trE
    Function: noun
    Usage: often attributive
    : a remote undeveloped rural area

    so backcountry skiing is…

    skiing in a remote undeveloped rural area

    and I can think of nothing I’d rather do from Nov until June…

  3. Seth F September 18th, 2006 2:58 pm

    Amen to “who cares!” The purity of so many of our sports are having to be defined and pigeon-holed. But I am also a bit of a snob and like to think that my definition is more correct than what others might think. Getting away from others and having my own descent (while being watched by my travel partners of coarse), approaching the descent by my own power (minus help from my TAV), and a reasonable distance form anything mechanised or commercial.
    Now that I am trying to define what I would like it to be, I realize that I am not yet a backcountry skier. That makes a good goal for this year.
    May we all enjoy the hills and not worry whether we are meeting the right criteria.

  4. Tom September 19th, 2006 8:08 am

    I start thinking about the frontcountry, middlecountry and backcountry in terms of getting out in case of emergency. Can I ski down to the car? Do I have more than a couple of miles to skin/wax out? Did we have to take machines in and then skin? But then I think about Jackson where skiing out of bounds is not just “skiing out of bounds.” So it really is like Wilderness and wilderness. There can be personal definitions but really it is a state of mind depending on experience, comfort level, etc. My 2 cents.

  5. The Heli Hiker September 19th, 2006 8:28 am

    I love this topic and I think the answer is simple. Lets start with whats not backcountry. If you ride a chair lift and then hike and ski back into the resort, its called yo-yoing. If you ride a chair lift hike or not hike but you ski out of the boundries and you dont ski back into the resort, that is called sidecountry skiing or out of bounds skiing. Its only Backcountry skiing if one, there is no Avy control. Two you never enter the property of a ski resort. And three, you climb for you turns. Church

  6. Steve Krause August 20th, 2009 4:09 pm

    What does the word “Fritschi” mean?

  7. Lou August 20th, 2009 6:35 pm

    Hi Steve, I know it’s a family surname, but do not know what it might mean in English.

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