Ski the Backcountry vs. Riding Lifts

Powder day - Waiting for first chair

'There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.' That saying applies to skiing and snowboarding as well as time-share condo seminars. Peter Frick-Wright discovered as much in his attempt to reduce his carbon footprint (snowprint?) by snowboarding in the backcountry. Peter rode a train to 'see whether I can ride the rails to a near-zero-emissions vacation'. Unfortunately, Peter wasn't able to avoid car trips to the trailhead and he got a crash-course in backcountry ski safety too.

On his first day in the backcountry Peter's ski guide was caught in a small avalanche, despite having dug a study pit to evaluate the snowpack. Fortunately, the guide was fine and skied out. Peter toured the next day with another group and managed to get himself stuck (temporarily) in a tree well. In between they skied great powder on untracked mountains. I only point out Peter's backcountry hassles only to show some of the potential hazards in backcountry skiing.

A backcountry skier can avoid some of the CO2 emissions tied to a ski resort, but there are tradeoffs with training and equipment. Skiing outside ski area boundaries is simply not for beginners. While there are no 'requirements' for a backcountry ski tour having an avalanche beacon, snow probe and shovel, avalanche safety training, and advanced to expert ski or snowboard ability are reasonable prerequisites. Traveling with a skilled backcountry ski partner is probably equally important to all the other gear and experience.

I absolutely love skiing, both in the backcountry and lift-served at a ski area. But some days I end up skiing alone, on a short time schedule or when snow conditions are marginal. Those days I ski at a ski area where the hazards are more controlled. I save the backcountry for the days when the snow is more stable and I can ski with an experienced friend. In the meantime, I'll carpool to the mountains and keep chipping away at my carbon footprint where ever I can.

More Info:

Sierra Winter Tracks - Seeking a guilt-free winter break, with snowboard and train ticket. by Peter Frick-Wright

Tree Well

AAIRE - The American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education

There ain't no such thing as a free lunch