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Things you should know before you head out in the backcountry for the first time (& continue to remind yourself often)…

Leave behind the lift lines and groomers for endless untouched powder. Whether you’re seeking a longer snow season than the resorts allow, fresh lines, or the most spectacular views you can imagine, backcountry touring has benefits for everyone’s desires.

I’m sure the majority of you reading this are adrenaline junkie, thrill chasing, powder loving chicks just like myself. I am so stoked you are looking to take on a new adventure and I promise you won’t be disappointed. I like to think I’ve done a lot of crazy things in life but my days backcountry touring have to be some of the most memorable and definitely the most rewarding. I only have one full season of touring under my belt but in that one season I sure learned a lot! If I can help you to not have to learn even one of these lessons the hard way, I will feel accomplished. The best way to make sure your tour is as incredible as you hope for is to be prepared and educated.

hiking monument peak

First things first, touring is not easy and you’re going to have to push yourself past your comfort zone in every way; physically, mentally, and emotionally. I remember my first day in the backcountry, I was only ⅓ of the way up and I was already in tears looking up at the peak and feeling discouraged that I wouldn’t be able to make it. No sport or activity could prepare my body for this type of physical demand. My legs were tired, my lungs were burning, and honestly I just wanted to turn around and head back to the car. I can say with confidence that after persevering and reaching the peak, it was one of the most exhilarating feelings. Not only was I proud of myself, I scored the best powder and lines of my ENTIRE LIFE! Just like that, I became addicted to backcountry touring.

Wear LAYERS! To be cold, wet, or uncomfortable while you are touring is an automatic game over. You might have to get a completely new wardrobe for backcountry days than what you ride in at the resort. Your cotton base layer and insulated jacket needs to stay at home when you hit the backcountry. Layers, layers, and the correct layers is the key to a successful day touring. You may want to start with a few layers on while your body warms up, but the warmup process won’t take more than 10-15 minutes once you begin skinning. As soon as you feel your body begin to get warm, strip off a layer. You want to prevent sweating as much as possible because damp, sweaty clothes can quickly turn to ice. After one tour in the wrong gear I realized how important it is to pack at least an extra pair of gloves, socks, and base layers just in case. For your outerwear, I would suggest a gore-tex non insulated shell, something extremely light, breathable, and water resistant. Some gear that is useful when touring and wouldn’t be a part of your typical resort riding gear list is sunglasses, sunscreen, and a ball cap.

snowboarding at the patch

Deciding to venture into the backcountry means you are accepting the risks that come along with the adventure. One way you can help minimize the risks you encounter is by choosing wisely who you tour with and only ride with people you trust. Not only people you trust to have your back but people whose character and decision making you can rely on. I have lots of friends who casually ask if we can ride backcountry together and my response is always “I would love nothing more than to share those incredible memories with you, but not until you have the right gear to help me save your life if something goes wrong, or to help you save mine.” People think going into the backcountry is all fun and games, but the fun begins after you are prepared with the right gear, training, and education. Don’t let someone impress you by bragging about nearly escaping an avalanche, there is nothing impressive about it. What’s impressive is having the knowledge to avoid a dangerous avalanche situation entirely. There is no way to ever eliminate all the risks but you can mitigate them.

Humble yourself. When you get too comfortable or confident is when you go out there and get hurt or end up in a bad situation. I’m not sure if your mom used to tell you this but mine sure did, “if something doesn’t feel right, most likely that’s because it isn’t”. I know my mom meant trust your gut, it will always tell you if something is morally right or wrong but I believe this translates to other situations as well. Nature is beautiful but it is also very unpredictable and unforgiving. Even if you don’t see something potentially dangerous but you feel hesitation, listen to that feeling.

Finally, expect the unexpected. Things are going to go wrong, be ready to go with whatever happens. Learn what you can, when you can, and take away what you can from every experience. I hope you have the most incredible first season exploring the backcountry. These are just a few tips I have to make sure you come home alive to tell your stories.

– Allison Jaeger, South Lake Tahoe Resident and Backcountry Babes AIARE Level 1 Scholarship Award winner

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