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Pemberton Backcountry Skiing: Are You Ready?

Photo by Dave Steers

Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Are You Ready? Signs You Can Make the Leap

Globe and Mail Pemberton Backcountry

Pemberton is known for having some of the best backcountry skiing in the country. And backcountry skiing is at an all-time high, with more and more weekend warriors buying equipment and trying it out. How do you know if you're ready for this sport?

You Are An Expert Skier

This almost goes without saying, but before you consider a backcountry trip, make sure you can ski anything on the ski hill. Black diamonds, double black diamonds, and in any kind of weather, with variable skiing conditions. You don't have to be in top athletic condition, necessarily, but do feel confident that you can ski well. This advice is mentioned over and over again on various backcountry websites, including Matador. An article on the CBC website notes that sales of MEC backcountry gear are up 40% in the 2012-2013 year, with avalanche gear and specialized freeride ski gear being a part of the surge in sales. However, this popularity is worrying some in the industry. Just because better gear is available doesn't mean that you are safe. Backcountry skiing requires that you are a very competent skier first.

You Have Taken An Avalanche Course

This is another essential thing to do before you attempt backcountry skiing. Avalanche training courses are not difficult to find. People in the industry offer these courses often because it is so vital to backcountry safety. Take one.

The risk is real, and just because you are an expert does not mean that you are exempt from that danger. A very real tragedy occurred in 2012 when a Whistler ski patroller was caught in an avalanche in the Pemberton backcountry on his last run of the day.Though tragedies like this are rare, they are a reminder of the importance of being prepared and taking heed of avalanche warnings. 

To get you started, here are a few examples of avalanche skills training offered in and near Pemberton:

You Have The Appropriate Gear

After the first two requirements, having the best geat you can afford is important for this sport. This is a beginner's list. Not complete, but it will get you started. And yes, it is extensive. One way to forego this expense is to hire a guide, which is actually a very good idea for your first trip anyway.

1.A backpack: Get one meant for skiing. You'll be glad you did.

2.An Insulated Water Reservoir: Insulated because if it isn't, it will freeze. Many backpacks come with this. Make sure you have one.

3.Alpine Touring Skis, boots, poles, and bindings: You can use downhill gear, but though this will save money, your uphills will be painful. We warned you. It is possible to buy an insert for your downhill bindings that will free your heel. If you can, invest in gear.

4.Skins for the bottom of your skis: Get good ones. This is not a place to scrimp and save.

5.Tool kit including a pocket knife: You'll want to bring anything and everything you might need to repair what you've brought with you. This is especially important for multi-day trips, but we recommend bringing tools for even a short day trip. Duct tape and all parts required to repair your gear should be included.

6.First aid kit including an emergency blanket: After you take your Mountaineering First Aid class, you'll know what you need in this kit.

7.Avalanche test kit and transceiver, shovel and probe: After you finish your Avalanche Skills Training course, you'll understand this one.

8.Proper Clothing: You know the basics. What you wear for regular alpine skiing. But in the backcountry, add in breathability, lighter is better and the need to change things up, fast.

Thanks to Unofficial Network and for inspiration for the equipment list.

Finally, Consider a Guide

Check out this page on our website for more information about local backcountry skiing and a list of guides you might want to consider for your first tour. Any day backcountry skiing is an incredible experience, one you'll want to try. Be prepared, take time to train yourself, and you'll be ready to have the time of your life.