Open-gate policies at popular ski resorts, the increasing cost of lift tickets, and incredible technological advances in skiing equipment have all contributed to the growing popularity of backcountry skiing. The dictionary definition of backcountry skiing is a method of skiing on terrain that hasn't been marked, cleared, or mapped. It offers enthusiasts the opportunity to conquer a more challenging terrain in an uncontrolled environment that is not actively managed or patrolled for safety. Backcountry skiing gives experienced skiers the chance to make the first ski tracks in freshly fallen snow.
Backcountry skiing usually refers to both downhill and uphill travel. Most skiers at resorts and professional trails use ski lifts, trams, or gondolas to gain access to downhill turns, but backcountry skiers must hike or skin up the slope. Skiers are able to travel uphill by simply attaching 'skins' to their skis. Skins on the bottom of skis effectively grip the snow, allowing the skier to proceed uphill as though the skis had Velcro on them. The attachments are called 'skins', because the original founders of the backcountry skiing sport, Norwegians, strapped skin and fur from seals onto their skis to accomplish the goal of skiing uphill. Nowadays, skins for skis are usually made out of plastic and synthetic fabrics.
If a skier doesn't have appropriate equipment for traveling uphill, he can use snowshoes, and carry skiing equipment strapped to the outside a backpack. Also, when skiing in a very populated zone, snow can become packed tightly like stairs, and it may be possible to simply hike up the packed hill without needing either skins or snowshoes. This technique is sometimes referred to as 'booting up the boot pack'.
Backcountry skiers must be skilled in traveling through the mountains, should be trained in practicing first aid in the wilderness, and must carry and know how to use avalanche safety gear. Learning how to keep safe and sound in backcountry terrain takes a great deal of in-depth study and continual practice. Skiing without a guide is totally inappropriate for most recreational skiers, for families or young children, or for anyone with physical fitness challenges. There are many resources for assistance for skiers who would like to attempt skiing the backcountry terrain. Safety courses are provided throughout the country to help recreational skiers learn with the assistance and guidance of an experienced backcountry skier.
Skiing in an environment that is uncontrolled and unpatrolled can be dangerous if you aren't aware of your surroundings and don't prepare for emergencies. You are solely responsible for evaluating the risks and managing any situations that may arise. In the backcountry environment, even something as simple as a sprained ankle can quickly become life-threatening if you are unable to move quickly and have not prepared to survive through the night in the snow. Also, the threat of an avalanche is always a real possibility. For this reason, everyone should always pack avalanche safety gear. This equipment includes, at a minimum, an avalanche shovel, an avalanche beacon or transceiver, a snow probe, and preferably a skiing partner who also has training and rescue gear. Skiing solo in the backcountry is a disastrous idea. For the most successful adventure, be sure to have a partner on your journey, prepare and practice sufficiently, and pack all the gear necessary for survival.
For a feeling of solitude and freedom, and the adventure of exploring a wide white world of untracked powder, there is no greater thrill than backcountry skiing.