The absolute majority of skiers and boarders enjoy their sport in resorts. Yet the continued interest in ‘side country’ and backcountry skiing and riding continues. While here in Australia, the backcountry (BC) does seem busier, it’s hard to tell if more people who mostly ski or ride in resorts are spending some time in the side country, or whether it’s mostly people who are new to the sport who are venturing into the backcountry. It’s probably a mix of the two.
Either way, it does pose an issue. If people who are not familiar with ‘un managed’ winter environments are getting out of resorts under their own power, are they likely to get themselves into trouble in the backcountry? How can we help people to be ready for the conditions and terrain they might find?
A few years ago, when writing about the rise of backcountry activity, I quoted Outside magazine ‘‘a tipping point has been reached, some say, and what was once a fringe subculture is now firmly mainstream’”. Backcountry is certainly the New Black.
That’s borne out by the sustained interest in BC/ side country in snow media. For instance, the current edition of Snow Action has a (fantastic) feature on BC skiing in Tasmania, climbing and skiing Mt Aspiring in Aotearoa/NZ, and some nice pics from the west ridge of Mt Buller. It also features reviews of gear for ‘uphilling’. In recent years, most of the snow press in Australia has been featuring BC areas like Bogong and the western side of the Snowy Mountains, and also featuring split boards and alpine touring gear.
If you’re wanting to get into the backcountry (accessing skiable terrain outside resorts) then if you haven’t started through cross country skiing, or other outdoor experience, it’s wise to learn the ropes from a club or professional.
Some ideas on getting skilled up:
In the Main Range area, check out Wilderness Sports, who offer tours and guiding (and hire the gear you’ll need). They have a great ‘try before you buy’ program, which includes Touring skis, Telemark, XC track and touring, and snowshoes. Run by Bruce Easton, WS is the longest running BC operator in the region.
Main Range Back Country also operate in the Snowies. They offer guided services for Skiers, Snowboarders and Snow-shoers and are also running a series of avalanche courses this winter in both NSW and Victoria. Co-owned by Dave Herring and Adam West, they also offer ski mountaineering courses.
The SplitFest, an annual gathering for split boarding enthusiasts is the place to learn about split boarding. Organised by Adam West, you can arrange to hire gear, and you will need basic BC skills to join the tour. In 2017 it will be held from August 25 – 27, and is a great social weekend.
Mountain Safe is run by Tony Harrington and will offer half day BC snow safety and snow awareness sessions at Mt Buller.
The NSW Nordic Ski Club offers a range of clinics in touring, tele skiing and AT.
World telemark day is also a good chance to meet like-minded skiers. In 2017 events are planned for Mt Hotham and the Snowy Mountains. It is held on the first weekend in September.
Mt Hotham ski hire will be extending its range of alpine touring gear this winter. Rays Ski Shop in Myrtleford hires out telemark gear. You could combine this with the Hotham side country guide to get out in the terrain adjacent to the resort.
The Mt Buffalo Ski School is in north east VIC. They offer weekly guided snow shoe tours, as well as private tours. They do cross country and snow shoe hire and offer XC lessons and tours on the plateau.
Most ski schools in resorts will have an instructor or two who can teach you to telemark (I can recommend Nathalie Ouedraogo at Hotham).
There is a list of the backcountry-related (or out-of-resort) events that I’m aware of available here.
And the backcountry forum is a great place to ask for advice about gear, skiing and destinations.
Know the conditions:
SnowSense is an alpine travel advisory site. “We issue information regarding alpine travel safety across all aspects of the prevailing conditions (from 1 June – 31st October ). This includes firstly the weather, by observation and predictions, and the effect the weather has on the snow pack”.
Snow Safety ‘aims to issue information regarding alpine safety across the NSW Main Range. This includes firstly the weather, by observation and predictions, and the effect the weather has on the snow pack’.
Wilderness Sports provides snow and weather conditions report that are updated daily for NSW backcountry and XC ski conditions. You can also drop in to their store in Jindabyne on your way through: the staff have years of experience and are active in backcountry touring so know their stuff.
Mountain Watch is a ‘one stop shop’ for snow and weather reports, and links to snow cams at all the resorts.
IMAGES are from the 2016 SplitFest, held in the Snowy Mountains.
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