The sports of backcountry skiing and ski touring have experienced explosive growth over the last decade. In the search for fresh powder runs and uncrowded backcountry experiences, more people are leaving the lift line and exploring western Canada’s vast backcountry. While there are a lot of similarities, backcountry skiing is different in several ways from regular alpine skiing (resort skiing).
First is the equipment required to tour around when there are no lifts. Using a special backcountry binding, skiers can essentially walk up hill using skins on their skis as a grip. Backcountry ski touring boots also have a ‘walk mode’ and a ‘ski mode’ to provide flex at the ankle when the skier is walking then lock the boot when a stiff set up is required to ski down. Skiers typically set an uptrack that switches back and forth across the slope to create a more comfortable grade for gaining elevation. When at the top of the hill, we remove the skins from the skis, switch the boot into ski mode and lock down the binding heel. The hard work of walking up the ski slope is usually rewarded with untracked snow and a fresh line. It is exhilarating.
Second, a higher level of fitness is required to gain the elevation on foot versus taking a standard ski hill lift. Experienced ski tourers set a steady comfortable pace that minimizes sweating and keeps a steady heart rate. The exertion level should be no more difficult than hiking with a pack.
The third big difference is the clothing set up and requirement to carry a pack. Most resort skiers bundle up in warm clothes and head straight to the lift. People ski touring require a layering system with their clothes to manage periods of steady cardio periods to the transition points where they are usually at the top of a run (ie: windy) and not moving. You usually don’t see many people at a ski resort with a backpack but it is essential kit for a backcountry skier since it will carry spare clothes, water, food and the all-important companion rescue kit for avalanche equipment.
This brings us to the fourth and final biggest difference – avalanche risk and evacuation assistance. In-bounds resort skiers never usually consider avalanche risk as a hazard since most resorts have well-coordinated and effective avalanche control programs. In the backcountry, skiers are required to have avalanche training to not only avoid being caught in an avalanche but properly rescue a companion who may have been buried. Ski patrol is usually only a quick call away at a ski resort should a skier become injured or have an accident. In the backcountry, you need more advanced skills to manage accidents or avalanches. Accidents and injuries take on a whole new level of urgency in extreme cold or poor weather in the backcountry. We strongly encourage any winter backcountry enthusiast to take an avalanche course and a wilderness first aid course.
With a bit of experience and proper training, backcountry skiing is an incredible way to keep active and enjoy the outdoors in winter. Even with high growth of users in the past several years, you can usually find a fresh powder stash that is begging to get skied. A serene backcountry setting can be truly magical even without the thrills and satisfaction of getting fresh tracks every run. Good ‘blue run’ skiers will find their skiing skills easily transferred to backcountry skiing. Skiing with a pack slightly changes your center weight point over your skis and deep powder or variable snow conditions mean you need to be paying close attention to what is in front of you and under your skis.
If you are a skier, you owe it to yourself to give this fun and growing sport a try. Stay active, enjoy the outdoors and celebrate our Canadian Winters on backcountry skis!
We offer a variety of courses and guided trips for backcountry skiers of all levels.
There are a variety of excellent options for backcountry skiing and ski touring in Alberta and British Columbia. From beginner to expert skier we likely have an option that gets you into the incredible backcountry of the Canadian Rockies.
Backcountry Ski Skills Level 1 – Intro to Backcountry Skiing – This weekend course in the Canadian Rockies is a great way to get started!
Backcountry Ski Skills Level 2 – Leading Day Trips – This course will develop your leadership skills for travelling in non-glaciated backcountry terrain.
Backcountry Ski Skills Level 3 – Winter Camping for the Backcountry Skier – Backcountry Ski Skills 3 will continue to refine the travel and leadership skills developed on the Backcountry Ski Skills 2 course but will focus on building the skills required to camp and cook in the winter environment.
Private Instruction – Personalized trips or instructional programs are tailored to your personal schedule and objectives. Appropriate for all levels: beginners to expert.
Winter is an excellent time to explore glaciated terrain and climb/ski surrounding peaks. Ski Mountaineering is a great mix of backcountry skiing and mountaineering. You can climb all year round!
Intro to Ski Mountaineering Course – Learn the skills of glacier ski mountaineering on the Wapta Icefields.
11’000’s Ski Ascents – Mt Hector – Along the Icefields Parkway, just North of Lake Louise, this majestic peak was the second Canadian Rockies 11,000er to be climbed in 1895. Standing on the summit you will be following in the footsteps of some of the Canadian Rockies’ most famous mountaineers. You will enjoy amazing panoramic views of the Lake Louise group and the Wapta Icefields on this trip.
Mt Columbia Ski Expedition – This trip is an excellent choice for adventurers looking to learn the skills involved in successfully planning and completing ski expeditions.
Hut-to-Hut and Winter Camping Ski Traverses
We offer a variety of classic and challenging ski traverses in western Canada and Europe.
The Wapta Traverse – The classic hut to hut traverse of the Canadian Rockies.
Bow to Yoho Advanced Ski Week – An incredible adventure east to west across the Wapta Icefields! We will be skiing over massive glaciers laid down during the last ice age, crossing the continental divide, and all the while surrounded by the majestic peaks that are the name sake of this range!
Bugaboos to Rogers Pass Ski Traverse – The Bugaboos to Roger’s Pass Grand Traverse is regarded as one of the top ski traverses in Canada. Crossing the Purcell and Selkirk Mountains, the traverse travels through the jagged granite spires of the Bugaboos as it works its way north through the large connected path of glaciers and summits
The European Haute Route – Join us as we ski through France, Italy and Switzerland enjoying excellent skiing, views and European mountain culture.
Berner Oberland Ski Traverse in Switzerland – The Berner Oberland is one of the must do European ski traverses. It travels through some of the largest glaciers in the Western Alps and is considered to have some of the best ski descents and summits in Switzerland!
Private Guiding – Personalized trips or instructional programs are tailored to your personal schedule and objectives. Appropriate for all levels: beginners to expert.
Lodge and Camp Based Programs
Rogers Pass Ski Touring – Three days of Selkirk powder in this Valhalla of powder!
Rishiri Island Skiing in Japan – 20 km off the Northern tip of Hokkaido, Japan is one of the most unique but unknown skiing destinations in the world.
Private Programs – Book a lodge for your own private group! Suitable for all abilities.
Avalanche Courses – Avalanche Skills Training levels 1 and 2 courses run most weekends throughout the winter months.