Backcountry Basics and Etiquette

There’s nothing quite like a day out on some of the planet’s snowiest peaks, especially on a pair of skis or your very own snowboard. At Gear.com, we understand just how exhilarating the backcountry can be, which is why we “climb every mountain” sourcing the best products that help take your ski experiences to a newer level. Whether you’re an expert or a noob, you have a right to enjoy our planet’s great outdoors with equipment and tools that help boost your passion for alpine activities. We take our support a step further with detailed how-to guides that are informative no matter your expert level. Before you hit the slopes, here are some tips about etiquette, safety and more to know before you go (KBYG).

Leaving No Trace

One of the foremost principles for any outdoor exploits is to “leave no trace” or LNT, and this is certainly true for all backcountry activities, including skiing, snowboarding, splitboarding and more. The idea of leaving no trace boils down to making sure the area(s) you explore are left untouched. This is not only good etiquette toward other adventurers, but this also helps reduce the human impact on the environment which affects wildlife, plants and other elements of nature. Our planet’s wintry environs are there for everyone to experience, so each of us has to do our part to make sure it’s around for others to enjoy. Here are some things to know about leaving zero impact:

  1. Plan ahead of time. You owe it to yourself, your group and others to KBYG. Check for weather, field conditions and rules. Make sure you bring all the necessary items and know how to use them.
  2. Stay in the right areas. While it’s ok to forge new paths metaphorically, you should stick to areas that have been established for skiing, snowshoeing and other camp activities.
  3. Pack up all your trash. Leaving no trace means that you pack out all your garbage, including the pits, peels and rinds of any fruit, veggies or other foods. Make sure you know the proper places and methods to dispose of waste (including that of your fur baby), used toilet paper and used water.
  4. Say no to natural “souvenirs.” Sure, that flower or stone might be really pretty, but you need to leave it right where it is. Don’t collect items or move them around as this negatively impacts the environment.
  5. Watch how you burn. Fires can quickly overwhelm and devastate an area, even when it’s cold. Make sure you completely extinguish any campfires and know the rules before you head out there.
  6. Be kind, not nice, to wildlife. This means not petting, feeding or adopting any animals you come across. Avoid impacting these creatures with anything you bring, including food and pets.
  7. Think about other visitors. Be respectful of other people by adhering to all Right of Way guidelines. Maintain a safe distance from other camps and don’t be a noisy nuisance to others.

Being Basic in the Backcountry

Now that we’ve gotten Earth etiquette out of the way, let’s take a look at backcountry-specific basics. Behavior that negatively impacts other skiers and snowboarders is basic, and that should be avoided by following these tips:

  • Respect the skin track. A skin track is an established set of grooves in a high-use area that make it easier for other skiers to traverse the slopes. Resist the temptation, especially as a first-timer, to walk in this skin track. Holes in this area can make skiing more difficult and dangerous.
  • Keep the slopes smooth for others. The flip side of the previous tip, here you should be mindful that other skiers or snowboarders may prefer untouched snow for making turns. You may be tempted to make a skin track for a killer turn, but other users may not be as appreciative.
  • Plug those holes. One of the common activities in alpine touring is digging pits to see how much the snow is packed. These pits can be as deep as 8 feet, presenting a major hazard for other explorers. When you’re finished analyzing the snow pack, collapse and fill in your pits before moving on.
  • Look out for others. Backcountry skiing is a popular activity, so there’s a good chance that there will be other users around. Watch out for other skiers, snowboarders and snowshoers who may be impacted by avalanches.
  • Educate yourself on avalanches. These rapid downward flows of snow might look cool on TV, but in reality, they present a potentially deadly situation for anyone unfortunate enough to be caught in one. Avalanche education courses are available for you to learn how to move through an avalanche, to make quick decisions, to identify avalanche terrain and to rescue someone. You owe it to yourself and everyone else to KBYG.
  • Be friendly. Whether you come across some splitboarders or first-time tourers, say hello and wish them well. Mind your volume, especially if you’re in a group of alpine partygoers.

Practicing Etiquette for the Experienced

For more advanced users, the basic tips might seem like a no-brainer. We get it. You’re not new to this. You’re true to this! You might think that only a noob would annoy other adventurers being ignorant of basics, but you can be a part of the problem as well. Consider these reminders for interacting with others:

  • Keep it cute and controlled. As a more experienced user, remember to make sure you have sufficient space and knowledge of the trail to be able to stop and avoid collisions with objects and others. Make sure that you stick to a terrain that matches your level of skill. Showing off by stunting for the ‘Gram” is an easy path to disaster. Also, if your equipment has elements to prevent them runaway, make sure you know how to use them (and use them)!
  • Yield to others. The people who are below you on a hill, regardless of whether they’re snowboarding or skiing, can’t see behind them, so yield to them. If you’re merging into a trail or starting down the slopes, yield to the folks who are uphill. Keep your head “on swivel” for a safe backcountry experience.
  • Be mindful of the novices. Ski school groups and newer users aren’t uncommon, especially given the rise in people taking to the slopes. Don’t ruin other people’s first-time experiences in the backcountry by being a donkey.
  • Follow all warning signs. Irrespective of how experienced you may be touring the backcountry, stay out of closed areas or trails. Those spaces have been closed for a reason, and there’s no level of skill that makes non-compliance ok.
  • Consider your destination. When you’re using a lift, be aware of where you’re going. That lift may be taking you and others to a terrain that is beyond your level of experience or that of others in a group. When you KBYG, you help others “get lifted.”

The backcountry is an exciting place to be for outdoor enthusiasts at every level. Whether you’re traversing on one board or two, it’s important to practice etiquette for your sake, as well as that of others and the planet’s most primitive and thrilling locales. At Gear.com, we love the outdoor life, especially touring the backcountry. The best experiences require you to be fully equipped, not just with premium gear but with knowledge as well. We’re here to make sure you KBYG and are properly outfitted before you get there.

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