10 Things Every Backcountry Skier Should Know: #1 – Practice humility so caution rules the day.

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | October 31, 2007      

Back to boot reviews soon, but today we finish up our “10 Things to Know series.” The ultimate part of any endeavor is perhaps how your mind interacts with the day. In terms of mountaineering, using mental processes to avoid pride and resulting bad decisions is key. I’ve messed up a few times in that area, and also had some success, but thought it would be nice to hear some other people’s words about this so I trolled my celebrity address book for likely helpers. But don’t let the celebs have the last word, I know you blog readers have some ideas about this, so fire a few comments to complete today’s backcountry skiing blog.

Chris Davenport:
“When I head into the mountains for a day of ski-touring or even an expedition I try and keep my hopes up but my expectations low. Although I will have defined goals and a plan of how to achieve them, I always try and “let the mountain come to me”. I love starting off in the pre-dawn hours and saying to my friends, “let’s just put one foot in front of the other and see what happens today”. With low expectations I’m never bummed when I have to turn back or choose an easy way down, but am always thrilled when everything goes my way.

Last June on Denali my team and I had a wish list of descents we thought would be amazing, but we ascended the mountain with open minds and to have a good time, and that approach paid off in spades. I can’t say enough about being humble and respectful in the face of Mother Nature. Keep your eyes and ears open at all times and take it all in. It is totally up to us as humans out there to absorb all the signs and signals that nature throws out way. Listen to your intuition, and learn to trust it. If you do
your homework with regards to conditions, avi danger, weather, and your team mates, chances are you’ll give yourself a great chance at success on your next mountain adventure.”

Aaron Ralston:
“I do sometimes make a point of centering myself on hikes and climbs by praying that my friends and I will act respectfully during our time in the mountains. It’s like an introduction process, of saying ‘Hi, I’m Aron, these are my friends, this is what we are here to do, help us understand what we can do to be safe and be respectful. We still get hit with adverse weather, conditions, moods and mis-preparation, but at least I’ve started a dialogue with myself to see a larger picture of what’s happening and what I can and cannot control. It’s a process of reminding myself of a basic humility.”

Andrew McLean:
“To me, there is a big difference between taking the sport seriously and taking myself seriously. Taking the sport seriously means getting as much education, training and mentoring as possible and treating the mountains with respect. Taking myself seriously is harder, as you have believe in yourself and push yourself to succeed in the mountains, but at the same time not lose sight of the fact that skiing is supposed to be fun and enhance life, not shorten it.

In practical terms, I try to keep my options open by going places where there are multiple options for “success” rather than focusing on one set
objective where I feel a lot of pressure to do or die trying it. It may just be semantics, but “skiing in the Elk Mountains” keeps my options for success open, whereas “skiing Maroon Peak” narrows my options and I feel like it forces me to take more chances, even though the end results may be the same. If I’m skiing in the Elk Mountains and Maroon looks good – go for it. If not, I don’t like to feel any pressure or shame for backing off.”


The list — 10 things to know:

10. Jump start a car without blinding yourself.

9. First-aid a serious laceration.

8. Rip skins in the wind without giving your scalp a bikini wax.

7. Fix a broken ski pole with duct tape and pocket knife.

6. Do a jump turn in the face of danger.

5. Start a fire in the snow — while you’re shivering.

4. Read a topo map quickly.

3. Quickly dig a person out of an avalanche.

2. Keep your feet warm.

1. Practice a humble mindset so caution rules the day.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


12 Responses to “10 Things Every Backcountry Skier Should Know: #1 – Practice humility so caution rules the day.”

  1. George October 31st, 2007 2:09 pm

    The most helpful thing that I use is to treat each backcountry foray as a total experience, rather than as a destination objective. It keeps me in the present, and like Andrew said, doesn’t narrow my thinking into a “see the hill, take the hill” mentality.

  2. Chris B October 31st, 2007 3:06 pm

    I love the approach of Ron E, who posts on here, when we go out skiing. “Just out for the tour”. So I always try and be satisfied with a kick and glide on a ridge if that is all that presents itself, and something more if there is something more to be had.

  3. Rick October 31st, 2007 4:02 pm

    Ive backed out of a few gnarly lines that I have climbed for hours to get to. At the time I felt like a the biggest pansy but in hindsight, I realize I wasn’t “feeling it” and when your life is in the balance I think you cant let your ego, or even worse, your friends ego get in the way.

    One time in particular, A guy summits after us with a dog and we were all looking at this steep blind roll over and dog guy said, “I would to ski it, but the dog might not go, sooooo, I better go around” I thought,”Man, I wish I had a dog to blame” he he

  4. Lou October 31st, 2007 4:31 pm

    I thought you guys would come up with something original, the dog keeping it real does take the cake so far (smile).

  5. Ken Gross October 31st, 2007 4:37 pm

    I think about my daughter sometimes when Im mountaineering, this helps to keep the risk taking at a minimum.

  6. Ron E October 31st, 2007 8:15 pm

    Yup, the baseline expectation for me is that “it’s all about the tour,” and anything above and beyond that is gravy or frosting or whatever you want to call it. [Chris B – We miss ya out here on the Wet Coast.]

    Ken Gross – I agree. And now that my daughter (13 years old in a few months) wants to join in on the ski tours more and more, it’s even easier to practice humility.

  7. Njord November 1st, 2007 7:37 am

    I spend a exceptional amount of time doing “stupid” stuff, but have learned to listen to my personal “spidey sense” that tingles in the back of my head when things are not quite right! I also think about all the awesome things that I might miss (wife, beer, more skiing) if I screw something up, which makes me reconsider quite often!

    You avoid makes mistakes through wisdom, which of course, you gain through making mistakes!


  8. Garrett November 1st, 2007 8:46 am

    “Beware the collector’s mentality in mountaineering,lest ye be collected. I’ve never liked the expression ‘peak-bagging’, if anyone is getting ‘bagged’ it sure aint the peak! Mountaineers are an independent lot but like it or not we are connected to everyone else. Our responsibilities in the mountains are; ourselves, our partners , the local search &rescue group,ski patrol ,sherrif departament etc. Think. I try to go into the mountains with a ‘dream-sequence’ planned in case things go our way. This should be tempered with a healthy dose of realism & as such the ‘dream sequence’ will often be reduced so we can live to ski another day. Dream, prepare & show up, glory awaits! Just ask ‘Dav.

  9. Randonnee November 1st, 2007 9:02 am

    For me it is about the total experience. One would like to repeat a great experience such as a beautiful ski tour as many times as possible. As a result, the first goal is to incur no injury, then to have fun, then to incorporate other goals within number one and number two. The baseline that satisfies me is walking over skins and sking back down in one of the beautiful areas that I frequent. When the weather or conditions are bad, I like to take the opportunity to observe avalanche activity in the areas that I frequent, or perhaps take the opportunity to scout new approaches etc. Fortunately 50 of 80+ of my ski tour days last season had powder snow, so that baseline is usually exceeded with the help of a snowmobile and 4 days per week to ski tour.

    At my advanced age of 50 the risk parameters are finely focused. Also, I have less patience for strenuously trying to convert crappy skiing into good turns (been there, done that) so it is nice to be content with traveling efficiently up and down across beautiful snowy mountains some days. Aside from as many good tours as possible, I need to be healthy for my job, my family, and for my young daughter. I have 31 years ski touring and no significant skiing injuries in backcountry (or in a ski area, when I went there). I hope to preserve my ability to ski tour for at least 20 more years, similar to my 70 year-old ski touring partner .

  10. Greg November 1st, 2007 10:54 am

    I usually go out with a defined objective, and I tell myself that I am simply trying to find out what the thing looks like that is going to stop me from completing my objective that day. This has been everything from snow that is knee deep and wet that makes me worried about a wet slide, to a lack of snow exposing rocks to the point where the couloir is narrower than my skis are long, to raging, uncrossable creeks at the bottom of the mountain. Sometimes, though, I complete my objective and I pleasantly find out that nothing was there to stop me that day!

  11. bruno November 6th, 2007 10:26 am

    Thanks for the great list! Humility is not a survival skill people often think of, but I think it’s fitting on this list.

  12. first aid training December 4th, 2009 7:19 am

    Thanks for sharing these information. Can somebody tell me that from where i can learn basic First Aid and CPR ??

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