What is Back-country Skiing? In simplest terms, it means skiing in areas outside of ski resorts and away from well-marked trails. Skiing in the back-country means accepting more personal responsibility for planning, navigation, route finding and dealing with the unexpected.
Enthusiasts can pursue back-country adventure in many ways, including traditional cross-country skis or snowshoes. However, most people associate back-country skiing with telemark or alpine touring (AT) equipment, and a wider ski that performs better in the untracked powder that is the allure of the back-country experience.
Despite the impression given in ski movies, not all back-country skiing involves steep slopes or launching off cliffs. Since back-country skiers choose their own terrain, they are free to choose the type of skiing that best suits them and their ski partners, whether that is carving turns through wide open and gently sloped alpine bowls, tree skiing in aspen groves or challenging descents in steep couloirs. However, anyone planning to venture into the mountains should plan carefully, get the right training, and choose their ski partners wisely.
NMCCSC can help you find reliable back-country partners, and advise on what skills you’ll need if you are new to the sport. We highly recommend an AIARE Level 1 avalanche class, and wilderness first aid training is also a good idea. The club even offers scholarship assistance to those who attend these courses. Finally, back-country skiers should be equipped with an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe, and be thoroughly acquainted with their use. Contact Rob Suminsby, (see sidebar) if you yearn to learn about safe but steeper powder & AT back-country adventure.
Back-country terrain options for New Mexico skiers include the Nambe Chutes and surrounding vicinity, which can be accessed from the Santa Fe Ski Basin lift, and the Williams Lake Basin near Taos Ski Valley. Slightly further afield, the San Juan Range in southwestern Colorado offers an almost infinite playground of back-country ski options, many of which are easily accessible from the Highway 550 corridor in the Silverton area.
Back-country skiing may be an option on almost any NMCCSC trip, depending on the skiers involved. Monthly club meetings offer an opportunity to meet others with similar ski objectives and make plans for an outing. There are a lifetime’s worth of turns out there in the mountains. Go get them!