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BY Dustin O'Reilly
Backcountry touring is a fantastic sport and a great way to enjoy fresh lines without the crowds. You aren’t alone if you are thinking about this upcoming winter season and considering leaving the resorts behind. Either for the first time or your fifth season there is so much to learn and the fall is the perfect season to sharpen your knowledge base, start training and update your gear.
A good place to start is with fitness and now is the time to begin building up your stamina to the standard necessary to break trail with the best of them. You’ll rely heavily on your quads, glutes, hamstrings and hips to get you into the backcountry and to descend deep powder slopes. Squats, leg presses, steep hiking trails and staircase sets are all great strength builders for your legs. Cardio and endurance are also essential. There aren’t ski lifts to shuttle you back to the top after a burner of a run, so cardiovascular heavy activities like running, biking, hiking and interval training will help you keep up lap after lap. Plan on thirty minutes or more to start a cardio workout. Many great athletes seem to “forget” to keep their core up to spec as well. Core muscles, as well as the muscle groups around your hips and lower back, are important to help you maintain good body position. Your overall technique will thank you for the time you spend doing all those crunches, leg lifts and planks. When scheduling a workout routine, plan on training roughly three days a week, rest days are vitally important for recovery.
Assess your technical ability and fitness level honestly, since your safety depends on it. An injury in bounds at a resort, while still very scary and dangerous, usually results in a quick ski patrol extraction from the slopes. An injury in the backcountry is dangerous not only to yourself, but to your partners and the search and rescue teams that may have to evacuate you. Not to mention a rescue in the backcountry can take several hours or even days. Stay on terrain appropriate for you (and your groups) skill level. This isn’t the place to showboat how rad you shred, as being safe often means skiing to the level of the weakest member of the group.
Even more important than your athletic ability is your knowledge base and understanding of the terrain. The first step is to take an avalanche awareness class. Reputable organizations have begun to offer online webinars, classes and have even moved part of their avalanche certification process into a virtual classroom. Many of these resources are free to the public, so don’t write off your access to information because you spent all your cash on some sweet new powder sticks. Additionally, if you have attended classes or been certified in the past it is still important to stay fresh and up to date with your knowledge. An avalanche certification is not a “one and done” path to backcountry safety. This is an everchanging environment and so should be your understanding of it. Conditions should be monitored every day for at least a week before you plan to venture into an area. Check your local avalanche report frequently, watch the weather and observe the environment every time you go out, and when you get home, submit your observations to your local organizations and groups. I am choosing not to delve into specifics of slope angles and snowpack assessment here, instead I want to encourage you to seek professional resources on the topic. I will have a few listed at the end of this article I strongly encourage you to explore after this.
As you begin to dive into the culture, you may find yourself among a new social landscape as compared to your usual resort crew which is exciting! However, only venture out with people you trust and strive to be a good partner yourself. Being a trustworthy partner means being mindful of your surroundings such as weather, snow conditions and who is around you (especially above and below). Make thoughtful decisions as a team and communicate clearly. Enjoy the challenge of taking care of yourself and your group in this awe-inspiring landscape. Community is important within all outdoor recreation so ask around to find your local touring groups. We all rely on each-other for information, partnership and support!
Safety equipment is absolutely essential every time you embark out into the backcountry. The three “must have’s” on any adventure are a transceiver, probe and shovel. Never go without them, and never go with someone who doesn’t have them. These tools are both for your safety and the safety of your partner. Before leaving the car, it is a good idea to perform a quick beacon check on each other to ensure everyone has their beacon and that they are on and have a fresh set of batteries (and don’t forget to finish by switching the last beacon back to “transmit”).
More recently there has been a lot of development in safety gear such as “air bag” backpacks which you can deploy in the event of an avalanche to help keep you on top of the snow pack and if you do become buried there are products like the “avalung” that can keep a supply of breathable air available. In addition to your usual medical kit consider bringing some survival gear as well. A simple fire starter, survival blanket, a good knife and a small tool kit can make all the difference when something goes wrong. A good pro-tip is to wrap some tape around your poles or water bottle for quick repairs! This saved the day for me once when the tail clip on my skins failed.
For many of us the most exciting part of getting prepared for the season is the gear! As adventurers this is the closest we get to that James Bond-esque suit up montage as we lay out, clean and test all of our equipment. Let’s start with probably the most vital of your kit which, outside of safety equipment, is going to be layers. Your trusty combo of a cotton t shirt, hoodie and ratty old jacket may have served you well for years at the resort, but more technical, breathable and moisture wicking layers are essential in the backcountry. Start with a tech layer base, merino wool shirts and bottoms are fantastic for this. Then an insulating layer, puffy jackets typically have the best warmth to weight ratio. Then an outside waterproof jacket, I often prefer non-insulated shell jackets, but those of you who run a little colder than myself might prefer more insulation or additional layers. Prioritize versatility with your layering, since you will be hot on the uphill, then usually experience a lot of cold wind at the top, and (hopefully) face shots on the way down! Look for ski pants with vents, as you will want some airflow down there while skinning or hiking. Never layer socks, a common mistake, one pair is all you want and do not tuck your leg layer into your boot. Too much fabric in your boot will cause a loss in circulation in your feet making them colder and painful.
For uphill access there are many different approaches and subsequently a vast selection of equipment to choose from. On the most budget friendly end you can simply purchase a pair of snowshoes and hike your resort skis up the hill. This can be a great start, however, it is very slow and will not gain you very rewarding access into new terrain. Of course, you can explore the age-old art of dropping a knee and jump on a telemark setup, there may be a bit of a learning curve involved but you might just get hooked! The most common method is to have a backcountry specific setup using an alpine touring specific boot, tech style binding and lightweight ski. Additionally, though regular ski poles can work fine, an adjustable length touring pole allows for more versatility. You often want to lengthen your pole while skinning along flat ground mimicking how cross-country ski poles work. To have a complete and trustworthy setup, you are probably going to have to spend a fair amount of cash, but if you start assembling your kit in the early months you can find good deals on gear and spread out your purchases over several paychecks.
Once you are feeling prepared to venture out with your gear, knowledge and safety equipment all sorted. There is still the ultimate question of where to go? One obvious solution is to hire a guide for a day or go on a guided group trip. For many this is the best way to have an amazing adventure while feeling safe and learning from an experienced professional as well as a great way to meet partners. A good tip this year is to sign up early in the season as online registrations have increased tenfold already. If you have friends with experience, this too is a fantastic way to venture out, though be clear and honest about your knowledge and ability level and understand that you are a team when you are out there.
Often new users begin by venturing out into what is commonly referred to as “sidecountry”. These areas can be fantastic and are just outside of the resort boundaries, usually accessed via a gate, often with little to no hiking or skinning necessary. However, don’t be fooled by the appearance of safety in these areas, because an avalanche doesn’t care if you are 100 yards or 100 miles from the nearest groomed run. Always be aware of the terrain you are exploring and the potential for hazardous conditions.
The experience of backcountry touring is a joy that I hope everyone can experience. Similar to resort skiing, there is something for everybody to enjoy from wide-open basins to technical glades to cliff drops and couloirs! However, unlike the resorts there are no lifts, no lodge and most importantly… no ski patrol! Your friends are your only support system, so knowledge and preparation are essential. I hope you have found the information here useful and I encourage you to further you interest by exploring the resources listed below. Now, go slash some pow!
Avalanche Education and Forecasting:
Last updated 12 October 2018. Effective immediately.
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14. DISCLAIMER OF WARRANTIES AND LIMITATION OF LIABILITY: WEBSITES. Your use of the SCARPA Websites is at your own risk. If you are dissatisfied with any of the Content or other contents of the SCARPA Websites or with these Terms, your sole remedy is to discontinue use of the SCARPA Websites. THE WEBSITES AND ALL INFORMATION, CONTENT, MATERIALS, SOFTWARE, AND SERVICES INCLUDED ON OR OTHERWISE MADE AVAILABLE TO YOU THROUGH THE WEBSITES ARE PROVIDED BY SCARPA ON AN "AS IS" AND "AS AVAILABLE" BASIS, UNLESS OTHERWISE SPECIFIED IN WRITING. SCARPA MAKES NO REPRESENTATIONS OR WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, AS TO THE OPERATION OF THE WEBSITES OR THE INFORMATION, CONTENT, MATERIALS, SOFTWARE, OR SERVICES INCLUDED ON OR OTHERWISE MADE AVAILABLE TO YOU THROUGH THE WEBSITES, UNLESS OTHERWISE SPECIFIED IN WRITING SIGNED BY AN AUTHORIZED SCARPA REPRESENTATIVE. YOU EXPRESSLY AGREE THAT YOUR USE OF THE WEBSITES IS AT YOUR SOLE RISK. TO THE FULL EXTENT PERMISSIBLE BY APPLICABLE LAW, SCARPA DISCLAIMS ALL WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. ALTHOUGH SCARPA TAKES COMMERCIALLY REASONABLE MEASURES TO PROTECT ITS CUSTOMERS PERSONAL INFORMATION, SCARPA DOES NOT WARRANT THAT (1) THE WEBSITES, (2) INFORMATION, CONTENT, MATERIALS, SOFTWARE, OR SERVICES INCLUDED ON OR OTHERWISE MADE AVAILABLE TO YOU THROUGH THE WEBSITES, (3) THE WEBSITES’ SERVERS, OR (4) E-MAIL ARE FREE OF VIRUSES OR OTHER HARMFUL COMPONENTS. EXCLUDING SCARPA’S INTENTIONAL MISCONDUCT, SCARPA EXPLICITLY DISCLAIMS AND WILL NOT BE LIABLE FOR ANY DAMAGES OF ANY KIND, ARISING FROM OR RELATED TO YOUR USE OF THE WEBSITES OR FROM ANY INFORMATION, CONTENT, MATERIALS, SOFTWARE, OR SERVICES INCLUDED ON OR OTHERWISE MADE AVAILABLE TO YOU THROUGH THE WEBSITES, UNLESS OTHERWISE SPECIFIED IN WRITING SIGNED BY AN AUTHORIZED SCARPA REPRESENTATIVE. This provision may be unenforceable or inapplicable within the State of New Jersey.
15. LIMITED WARRANTY: PRODUCTS. SCARPA products are warranted to the original retail purchaser to be free from defects in materials and workmanship for one year from the original date of purchase. Warranties for non-SCARPA products, that is products sold by SCARPA but manufactured by other manufacturers (by way of example, products manufactured by Koflach or Rottefella), may be different. Check the materials that come with the non-SCARPA products and that manufacturer’s website for information about their warranties. If you purchase a SCARPA product from any SCARPA Websites that you believe is defective, return the product to us pursuant to the SCARPA Return Policy and include your receipt and proof of purchase showing the purchase date. SCARPA will repair or replace the product at our sole discretion. If SCARPA determines that there is no warranty issue with the returned product, the product will be returned to you with a note of explanation. SCARPA’S LIABILITY UNDER THIS LIMITED WARRANTY IS EXPLICITLY LIMITED SOLELY TO SUCH REPAIR OR REPLACEMENT. UPON EXPIRATION OF THE WARRANTY PERIOD, SCARPA SHALL HAVE NO LIABILITY UNDER THIS LIMITED WARRANTY OR OTHERWISE. THE FOLLOWING ARE EXPLICITLY EXCLUDED AND NOT COVERED BY THIS LIMITED WARRANTY: (1) DAMAGES DUE TO NORMAL USE AND WEAR; (2) DAMAGES DUE TO ABUSE OR ACCIDENTS; (3) SCARPA PRODUCTS THAT HAVE BEEN RESOLED OR IN ANY WAY MODIFIED; AND (4) THE FIT OF ANY SCARPA PRODUCT. THIS LIMITED WARRANTY IS IN LIEU OF ALL OTHER WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, and except as otherwise specified above, SCARPA MAKES NO WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EXPRESSED OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING WITHOUT LIMITATION ANY WARRANTY OF MERCHANTABILITY OR FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, OR ANY WARRANTY AS TO THE DESIGN, CONDITION OR QUALITY OF MATERIALS AND WORKMANSHIP TO THE PURCHASER OF THE GOODS AND/OR ANY OTHER PERSON WHATSOEVER. NOTHING CONTAINED IN THE FOREGOING SENTENCE IS INTENDED TO RELEASE THE SELLER FROM LIABILITY FOR ORDINARY DAMAGES FOR PROVEN PRODUCT LIABILITY CLAIMS.
Please note that certain state laws do not allow limitations on implied warranties or the exclusion or limitation of certain damages. If you are a resident of such a state and these laws apply to you, some or all of the above disclaimers, exclusions, or limitations may not apply to you, and you may have additional rights.
16. Reserved Rights. SCARPA reserves the right to do any of the following, for any reason, at any time, without notice: (1) to modify, suspend or terminate operation of or access to the Websites, or any portion of the Websites; (2) to modify or change the Websites, or any portion of the Websites, and any applicable policies or terms; (3) to interrupt the operation of the Websites, or any portion of the Websites, as necessary to perform routine or non-routine maintenance, error correction, or other changes; and (4) discontinue or restrict your use of the Websites.
17. WARNING: SKIING, CLIMBING, MOUNTAINEERING, TRAIL RUNNING, HIKING, WALKING, AND RELATED ACTIVITIES, ARE POTENTIALLY LIFE THREATENING, HAZARDOUS, AND DANGEROUS. By purchasing or using any SCARPA equipment in any manner, you agree that you are: (1) personally and solely responsible for: (a) learning and knowing the limits and capabilities of the equipment and yourself, (b) the proper use of and techniques for such equipment, (c) making responsible, sound decisions in changing situations, and (2) assuming all risks and accepting full and complete responsibility for any and all damages and injury of any kind to yourself or others, including death, paralysis, and serious injury, which may result from or is related to your use of any equipment manufactured by or purchased through SCARPA, its partners, Websites, or retailers. In addition, YOU AGREE TO ASSUME ALL RISKS AND ACCEPT FULL AND COMPLETE RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY AND ALL DAMAGES AND INJURY OF ANY KIND, INCLUDING DEATH, PARALYSIS, AND SERIOUS INJURY, WHICH MAY RESULT FROM OR IS RELATED TO YOUR USE OF OR RELIANCE UPON ANY MATERIALS OR INFORMATION PRODUCED BY SCARPA, ITS PARTNERS, AND/OR THAT IS CONTAINED IN ANY SCARPA WEBSITES, CATALOGS, PUBLICATIONS, OR OTHER SCARPA MATERIALS. Resources like the SCARPA Websites and publications can provide useful information and tips, but they are no substitute for good decision making, safe and appropriate use of equipment, or professional instruction for the numerous hazardous situations in which you may choose to use SCARPA products.
18. Disclosure of Your Information. You agree and SCARPA reserves the right at all times and without further notice to disclose any information that SCARPA deems necessary to comply with any applicable law, regulation, administrative or legal process or governmental request. SCARPA also may disclose your information when SCARPA determines that applicable law requires or permits such disclosure, including exchanging information with other companies and organizations for fraud protection purposes. You agree that SCARPA may disclose any information we have about you (including your identity) if SCARPA determines that such disclosure is necessary in connection with any investigation or complaint regarding your use of the Websites, or to identify, contact or bring legal action against someone who may be causing injury to or interference with, either intentionally or unintentionally, the Websites, SCARPA’s rights or property, or the rights or property of the Websites’ users, including SCARPA’s customers. You acknowledge and agree that SCARPA may preserve any transmittal or communication by you, including emails, through the Websites or any service offered on or through the Websites, and may also disclose such data if required to do so by law or SCARPA determines that such preservation or disclosure is reasonably necessary to (1) comply with legal process, (2) enforce these Terms, (3) respond to claims that any such data violates the rights of others, and/or (4) protect the rights, property or personal safety of SCARPA, its employees, users of or visitors to the Websites, and the public.
19. Indemnity. YOU AGREE TO DEFEND, INDEMNIFY AND HOLD SCARPA, ITS SUCCESSORS, AND ASSIGNS, AND ITS AND THEIR DIRECTORS, OFFICERS, EMPLOYEES, AGENTS, CO-BRANDERS OR OTHER PARTNERS, HARMLESS FROM ANY DEMANDS, DAMAGES, LOSS, LIABILITY, CLAIMS OR EXPENSES (INCLUDING ATTORNEYS’ FEES AND JUDGMENTS OF ANY KIND OR NATURE), MADE AGAINST OR INCURRED BY SCARPA BY YOU, ANY PERSON OR ENTITY ACTING ON YOUR BEHALF, AND/OR ANY THIRD PARTY RELATED TO, ARISING OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH YOUR IMPROPER USE OF THE WEBSITES, YOUR BREACH OF ANY OF THESE TERMS, AND/OR ANY OTHER VIOLATION BY YOU THAT CREATES LIABILITY FOR SCARPA. This provision may be unenforceable or inapplicable within the State of New Jersey.
20. Applicable Law; Dispute Resolution; Arbitration; Class Action Waiver; Miscellaneous Provisions. By visiting or using any SCARPA Websites, you agree that:
(1) All matters relating to these Terms, and/or your access to or use of the Websites, including all disputes, will be governed by the laws of the United States and by the laws of the State of Colorado without regard to its conflicts of laws provisions.
(2) In the event of any controversy or dispute between SCARPA and you arising out of or in connection with these Terms and/or your use of the Websites, SCARPA and you shall attempt, promptly and in good faith, to resolve any such dispute. If we are unable to resolve any such dispute within thirty (30) days, then either party may request that such controversy or dispute be mediated. The mediation may be conducted in person, through the submission of documents, by phone or online. If conducted in person, the mediation shall take place in Boulder, Colorado. If the dispute is not resolved through mediation within a reasonable time (not to exceed sixty (60) days from the mediation request), then the parties shall be free to pursue any right or remedy available to them under applicable law through binding arbitration as described below.
(3) BINDING ARBITRATION: In the event of any dispute arising under or relating to these Terms your access to or use of the Websites (including products or services sold or distributed by SCARPA through SCARPA Websites), such dispute will be finally and exclusively resolved by binding arbitration. NEITHER YOU NOR WE SHALL HAVE THE RIGHT TO LITIGATE ANY CLAIM IN COURT OR TO HAVE THE CLAIM DECIDED BY A JUDGE OR JURY. DISCOVERY RIGHTS, SUCH AS EACH PARTY'S RIGHT TO THE EXCHANGE OF PREHEARING INFORMATION OR PREHEARING TAKING OF SWORN TESTIMONY, MAY ALSO BE LIMITED IN ARBITRATION. All disputes will be resolved before a neutral arbitrator, whose decision will be final except for a limited right of appeal under the Federal Arbitration Act. The arbitration shall be commenced and conducted under the Commercial Arbitration Rules of the American Arbitration Association (AAA) and, where appropriate, the AAA’s Consumer Arbitration Rules, both of which are available at the AAA website www.adr.org. The arbitration may be conducted in person, through the submission of documents, by phone or online. If conducted in person, the arbitration shall take place in Boulder, Colorado. The parties may litigate in court to compel arbitration, to stay proceeding pending arbitration, or to confirm, modify, vacate or enter judgment on the award entered by the arbitrator. The Federal Arbitration Act and federal arbitration law apply to these Terms.
(4) CLASS ACTION WAIVER: Any arbitration or proceeding shall be limited to the dispute between us and you individually. To the full extent permitted by law, (a) no arbitration or proceeding shall be joined with any other; (b) there shall be no right or authority for any dispute to be arbitrated or resolved on a class action-basis or to utilize class action procedures; and (c) there shall be no right or authority for any dispute to be brought in a purported representative capacity on behalf of the general public or any other persons. YOU AGREE THAT YOU MAY BRING CLAIMS AGAINST US ONLY IN YOUR INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, AND NOT AS A PLAINTIFF OR CLASS MEMBER IN ANY PURPORTED CLASS OR REPRESENTATIVE PROCEEDING.
(5) You hereby irrevocably waive, to the fullest extent permitted by law, (a) any objection that you may now or hereafter have to such jurisdiction and venue and (b) any claim that any such arbitration proceeding has been brought in an inconvenient forum. Note that the preceding provision regarding venue may not apply if you are a consumer based in the European Union, however, in all cases, the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods shall not apply in any dispute arising out of or related to these Terms;
(6) Any and all claims arising out of or related to these Terms must be brought by you within one (1) year after the cause of action arises, or such claim or cause of action is forever and irrevocably barred. Claims made under the separate terms and conditions of purchase for goods and services are not subject to this limitation.
(7) No recovery may be sought or received by you against SCARPA for damages other than your out-of-pocket expenses, excluding attorney fees.
(8) A printed version of these Terms and of any notice given in electronic form shall be admissible in any mediation or arbitration proceeding based upon or relating to these Terms to the same extent and subject to the same conditions as other business documents and records originally generated and maintained in printed form. All headings in these Terms are for convenience or reference only and shall be ignored in construing these Terms.
(9) SCARPA’s failure to enforce all or any part of these Terms or respond to a breach thereof by you or any other party shall not in any way be construed as a waiver or a relinquishment of any right granted SCARPA hereunder of the future performance of all or any part of these Terms, and your obligations set forth in these Terms shall continue in full force and effect.
(10) If any provision in these Terms is held invalid or unenforceable under applicable law, the invalid or unenforceable provision will be modified to the minimum extent necessary and deemed superseded by a valid, enforceable provision that most closely matches the intent of the original provision and the remaining provisions of these Terms will continue in full force and effect.
(11) These Terms contain the entire and final agreement regarding SCARPA Websites and their Content, and supersede any prior or contemporaneous communications between you and SCARPA regarding the Websites.
(12) Any offer for any feature, product or service made on the Websites is void where prohibited. If you choose to access the Websites from outside the U.S., you are solely responsible for complying with applicable U.S. and local laws. Although the Websites may be accessible worldwide, not all products or features provided or offered through the Websites are available in all geographic locations, or available (legally or otherwise) for use outside of the U.S. SCARPA reserves the right to limit, in its sole discretion, the provision and quantity of any product or feature shown on the Websites to any person or geographic area.
(13) All rights not explicitly granted in these Terms are hereby reserved by SCARPA.
(14) By continuing to use the SCARPA Websites, you hereby agree and intend to be bound by these Terms.
SCARPA North America, Inc. (“SCARPA”) appreciates the difficulties that individuals with disabilities face and has supported disabled athletes and groups for many years. SCARPA strives to comply with all applicable laws and guidelines so that our website is accessible to individuals with disabilities, including W3C’s WCAG 2.1 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) accessibility standards up to Level AA.
SCARPA has taken and continues to take a variety of steps to ensure the accessibility of our website. The site is built to comply with WCAG 2.1 accessibility guidelines, including media content tagged with titles, alternative text, and descriptive information, and font sizing is supported and may be controlled through the browser.
If you experience any difficulty using or accessing any part of this website, please call us at 303.998.2895 or email us at [email protected] and we will work with you to ensure that you have full access to the information in which you are interested and which is available to the public on our site, and can purchase our products, if desired.
Please contact us at 303.998.2895 or [email protected] if you have any feedback to share about the accessibility of this website.