Intro Guide to Backcountry Touring in Colorado

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The following is a guest post from evo Denver — a ski, snowboard, mountain bike, surf, wake, skate, camp, and lifestyle retailer. 

Snow is falling in the mountains, seasonal fashions have shifted to scarves and beanies, and you’re ready to get into backcountry skiing in the great state of Colorado. Good for you! Colorado is hard to beat as a training ground for backcountry skiers of all experience levels. So even if you’re a total beginner, there are some great resources available to help get you started in the world of human-powered skiing. Traditionally most backcountry skiers have stumbled their way to competence, learning from their mistakes and occasionally picking up help from mentors. But getting into backcountry skiing doesn’t need to be hard and dangerous, and there are more opportunities than ever for newcomers to grow and progress safely.

Backcountry Touring in Colorado

Get Educated

The first thing to do if you’re planning on accessing the backcountry, either by skinning or skiing outside of resort gates is to get educated. Backcountry skiing is dangerous. Plenty of people are killed every year while skiing in the backcountry, either by avalanches or other hazards. While you can learn a lot by reading books and talking to guides, there’s no replacement for a dedicated avalanche course. Take your Avy 1 class before you go any further down this road. You’ll learn a lot, not just about avalanches but also how to travel more efficiently in the mountains, how to manage the terrain, and how to find safe areas worth skiing. We can’t emphasize this enough: take that class before you do anything else.

Get the Gear

Backcountry Touring Gear

As you get educated on the hazards of backcountry skiing, it’s also time to gather the gear. If you’re not sure that you’re going to be a dedicated backcountry skier, finding a ski store that offers backcountry ski rentals is a good idea. They can get you set up with the gear you need to take your Avy 1 class. To take that class, and to enter the backcountry safely, you’ll need an avalanche transceiver, a shovel, and a probe. A good shop will be able to rent those to you and point you toward deals when it’s time to buy your own.

Beyond that, you’ll need either a backcountry touring ski setup or a splitboard. That means boots with tech fittings, touring bindings, and skins. This is another area where your shop is an invaluable resource. They’ll be able to recommend gear that performs similarly to your inbounds gear and works well for your objectives. Don’t skimp here, especially on boots.

Ask the shop about important accessories as well. Several small things can make your life a lot better. Things like skin wax (like ski wax, but for your climbing skins), multitools, and a small headlamp can live in your pack and really help you out in a pinch. Find knowledgeable people and quiz them on what they carry.

Stay up to Date

Backcountry Gear

You’ve got the gear, you aced your Avy 1 class, now you’re done reading and ready to head into the backcountry, right? Not so fast. Backcountry knowledge is a journey, not a destination. You need to be ready to constantly learn and improve. No certification makes you impervious to danger. Instead, you need to grow and progress. The best way to do that is to read your local avalanche report every morning before you get out of bed. Even if you’re not skiing, it’s important to keep up to date on what is happening in the mountains. The circumstances that lead to avalanches don’t all happen over the course of the day before. Especially in Colorado the longer-term freeze-thaw and sun cycles play a huge role in how stable the snow is for months afterward. So keep reading and learning and growing.

Get Started Inbounds

Backcountry Skiing in Colorado

For any beginner backcountry skier, there are a whole bunch of things to handle. You’re on unfamiliar gear, in unfamiliar terrain, doing an unfamiliar exercise. And on top of all that hangs the pall of potential avalanches. So we’d highly recommend taking some of those variables out of the equation and getting familiar with your gear and with backcountry travel inbounds at a ski resort. Most Colorado resorts offer some sort of uphill policy, with an affordable pass. They have designated routes, and often even have beacon parks so you can practice your rescue skills. Take advantage of all of that. Figure out how your bindings work at a resort, not somewhere where a mistake will leave you stranded overnight. Get fast at transitioning from skiing to walking and back in an area where it’s easy to just head back to the car and warm up.

Uphill skiing inbounds at a resort is the best way to grow competent on your touring gear without endangering yourself or others. You’ll have a more enjoyable, and safer first few tours if you do them at a ski resort.

Get A Guide

Gearing Up

Finally, once you’re comfortable with your gear and want to expand your horizons, we highly recommend getting a guide of some kind. That can range from hiring someone from a guide service, to paying a guide to consult and give you advice without taking you into the backcountry, to finding a more experienced skier who is willing to mentor you and show you the ropes.

Sure, you can just charge out there on your own, but it’s not safe, and it’s usually not fun. Let someone with more experience help you out, give you some tips, and improve your technique. They’ll be able to assess what backcountry zones make sense for your skill level and help you grow as an all-around skier. Pay attention, and maybe someday you’ll be able to do the same for another fresh new backcountry skier!

About Evo DEnver

We are evo Denver –  a ski, snowboard, mountain bike, surf, wake, skate, camp, and lifestyle retailer. evo explores the collaboration between culture and sport by seamlessly joining art, music, streetwear, skateboarding, snowboarding, skiing, mountain biking, and wakeboarding. Our aim is to bring all things relevant to the urban, action sports lifestyle into one creative space. Whether it is on the website, on the phone, or in our stores, our aim is to make all who come into contact with evo feel welcome and excited about their experience.

Disclosure: Please note that this post is sponsored by evo Denver and contains affiliate links. We may receive a small commission if you buy a product or service through an affiliate link. This revenue helps us provide readers with helpful content to plan amazing adventures.