Is this the year you start ski touring? As the weather cools, the leaves change, and the clouds roll in, true PNW folk delve into the joys of fall. A sense of festivity floats in the air this time of year. We enjoy long drives full of dark colors, excessive coffee consumption, apple pie, and pumpkin picking. Yet, for many of us, excitement is building behind all the fall fun—snow is on its way.
Skiers and snowboarders live by anticipating snow. Our sport is based solely on what Ullr decides to give us, and we wait with open hearts praying to snowboard bonfires and shots of whiskey…please, please bring snow and bring lots.
Ultimately, we are all looking towards the upcoming season and new adventures to pursue. Are you tired of weekend lift lines and the same old runs? Maybe this is the year you step into ski touring. That leap is not always easy, so here are four basics to get you started.
Four Basics for Ski Touring
- What you need. There are a few key items to get into the backcountry. First, you need skis and bindings that tour. These range from alpine like bindings that transform into touring bindings to something called a tech binding. The tech binding is significantly lighter, but you need alpine touring specific ski boots. Either way, you want your ski boots to have a walk mode to avoid blisters and an uncomfortable tour up hill. You also need skins, which are a synthetic material you attach to the bottom of your skis to glide up the mountain and not slide down. Finally, if you are going into the backcountry, you always need to have an avalanche beacon, an avalanche shovel, and a probe.
- Getting the Gear. It is a lot of new gear to get! To purchase the entire touring kit in one sitting is a large investment. However, there are a lot of shops around Washington that will rent out this gear for you to try at an affordable price. If you are going to Snoqualmie Pass area or live on the east side, stop by Pro Ski and Mountain Service in North Bend. They will get you the complete set up. Near West Seattle? Mountain 2 Sound Outfitters will hook you up. Or, are you heading up to Mt. Baker? The Glacier Ski Shop has the goods to get you going. Possibly you live in Seattle, then Second Ascent in Ballard is the place to go. All these shops are local, so feel free to ask them any questions about touring and terrain in the region. It is a great way to try out touring and shop local!
- Education. This year, you want to get away from the crowds and explore the mountains. Just remember, once you leave the secure, avalanche patrolled, ski area ropes, it is up to you and your group to stay safe. Nature is an elusive, wild, threat, and snow filled mountains present many dangers. Although this is not to scare you away, every person in the backcountry needs to be aware of the implicit danger that comes with wandering away from ski area boundaries. Begin by finding a group of people who have experience in the backcountry. Also, check out an educational book, specifically Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain by Bruce Tremper. Pick up a copy of this book where you are demoing your gear. However, the best way to prepare for backcountry skiing is to take an AIARE Level 1 Course (an avalanche safety course). These are offered throughout the winter by many different organizations. Take a look at the AIARE website to find one that suits you.
- Where. You’ve got the gear, you’ve found a group, now where do you go? Start with the side country around the ski area you are most comfortable with. Moreover, it’s always a good idea to pick up a book about backcountry skiing in Washington. One great book to pick up at your local ski shop is Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Routes-Washington by Martin Volken. Additionally, there is also 100 Classic Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Routes in Washington by Rainer Burgdofer. Coupled with Turns All Year, which is a great website for backcountry skiers in the PNW. It’s always a good idea to have a route plan when heading out, so use these resources to be prepared.
Finally, the most important thing about ski touring? It’s so fun! Live the life of fresh untracked lines, solitude in nature, exercise, and joining a community of great people. Winter is on its way, is this the year to leave the ski area?