Ski Mountaineering; An Introduction

Why would anyone give up the happy comforts of chairlift-assisted skiing for this gem of an experience?

Simple: earning your turns makes them taste better no matter how crap the snow. Skiing becomes a way of interacting with a mountain rather than just using it as a ramp (yeah, I am biased…I own it). And, combining ski touring and mountaineering is like an Italian sub—everything that is awesome in one epic package. Trust me: ditch the day pass and go on a real adventure. (Added bonuses of backcountry skiing: no lift ticket purchase necessary, great looking glutes, fresh tracks forever, sure way of building your network of fellow crazy people).

Photo: Mark Houston
How to get started:

  1. Be honest about your abilities. You should be completely comfortable on black diamonds before heading into the backcountry. Keep in mind: you will be going into terrain that is not under the jurisdiction of any ski patrol and good snow conditions are in no way guaranteed.
  2. Avalanche safety. Before heading into uncontrolled terrain, you MUST receive education on how to avoid avalanches and stage a rescue in the event of one. ***DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP.
  3. Find a guru and gain experience. Just like climbing, backcountry skiing requires a period of learning. You will need a partner (not the braggart-bro who regaled you with stories of awesomeness outside the ropes). I recommend getting a guide. Going with a certified mountain guide (AMGA or IFMGA) will provide you the opportunity to learn from a pro and allow you to enjoy the experience of playing in the backcountry without worrying about not coming back (No, I am NOT being paranoid). Another great resource is Bruce Tremper’s, Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain.
  4. Get the right gear and know how to use it. (See Annie’s gear guide here.)
  5. Establish a routine. Mine is: check avalanche report and discuss with partner(s), determine a safe route with regards to conditions, inform a non-participant of the intended plan, put on avalanche beacon, go through essential gear checklist (see below), take VW van to trailhead, double-check that everyone’s beacon is on, ski uphill, ski downhill, repeat until orgasm has been achieved, drive to apr├Ęs spot, brewskis and bad decisions.
  6. Conditioning. Skiing uphill is hard work. Being in good physical shape makes the experience safer and more enjoyable.
  7. Basic or wilderness first aid is never a bad idea.
  8. ADVANCED-if you are serious about ski mountaineering make sure you have experience on rock, mixed, and ice routes. Have advanced knowledge of rappelling, setting anchors, and crampon technique. Again, if you are just starting out go with a guide or someone with equivalent knowledge. Your local climbing gym is always a good place to receive further instruction and find partners.  
  9. Stay hungry. Chris Davenport, Brody Leven, KT Miller, and JP Auclair are some of the most inspiring ski-mountaineers out there. I highly recommend social media stalking them. I do.
 To read the full article click here.


  1. Ah it looks amazing! Such gorgeous shots too! Really sorry to hear about the bum time you've been having since you've been back but things can only get better so keep your chin up lovely

    french ski


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