Backcountry Skiing Tips for Beginners

Backcountry skiing for the first time can be extremely daunting. With so much backcountry skiing equipment and all the skiing jargon, it's no wonder some people get put off even before they hit the wilderness. However, backcountry skiing is enjoyable and is an excellent way to get the blood pumping while enjoying the outdoors. If you're interested in skiing the backcountry for the first time, here are a few tips.

A skier enjoys the snow in the backcountry with a majestic mountain in the background.

Go with a guide

Backcountry skiing is an exciting adventure option for winter in the mountains but there are risks. Until you are familiar with the risks and know how to manage them safely, going with a guide or an experienced person is the best way to learn about the backcountry safely and quickly. K7 Adventures and Thredbo Resort both offer introductory backcountry skiing and splitboarding tours.

Below are some general information that will give you an idea of what you will need for your first backcountry experience.

What you need to bring

Being prepared is key when skiing, especially if you're venturing into the backcountry. Make sure to pack all the essential skiing gear such as a good pair of touring skis, extendable poles and lightweight touring boots. You should also pack food and fluids to keep you hydrated and stave off hunger throughout the day.

An important skiing tip for beginners is to keep your backpack light. You'll be skiing for long periods of time and you don't want to be weighed down by a heavy backpack. 

Beginner skier ready for his backcountry adventure with complete gear and equipment

Ski equipment

Your basic skiing equipment includes skis with touring bindings, climbing skins or pattern-based skis, poles, and ski boots. If you're renting ski equipment, make sure to get fitted by a professional. They will be able to help you choose the right size and type of ski for your ability level and skiing conditions.

Once again, the backcountry skiing tip for beginners is to go for lighter weight. This will help with your mobility and stamina. Lighter skis are also easier to control, so they're a decent option for beginners. Wilderness Sports in Jindabyne and Rhythm Snowsports in Cooma both have a good selection of backcountry gear for sale and hire.

Cold weather gear

Staying warm in the backcountry is essential since you'll be skiing in cold weather. Make sure to pack plenty of layers, including a warm jacket, gloves, and a hat. In Alpine areas, the weather is dynamic so it's important to prepare for all situations. Having a good range of layers and a waterproof, breathable outer layer will help you if there is a change in the weather.

Outdoor essentials

This includes your first aid kit, a map, compass, backcountry gear repair kit with duct tape and a lightweight multi-tool. These are good to have and will help in avoiding getting lost or injured while skiing. If you are planning a long trip, hiring an emergency beacon from the Snowy Region National Park Centre in Jindabyne is a good safety backup if things go wrong. This allows you to call for help in an emergency.

If you're skiing in an area with steeper terrain where there is a risk of avalanches, make sure to pack your avalanche safety gear. This includes an avalanche transceiver, avalanche probe, avalanche beacon, and avalanche shovel.

What you need to know

Backcountry skiing for the first time can be exciting, but you'll also need to be mindful of some important pointers. For starters, you should ski only according to your ability and don't try to ski terrain that is beyond your level. Steep terrain and avalanche terrain should be avoided by inexperienced skiers.

Also, it's always better to ski with someone or a group so you can get help if needed. Remember to always inform someone of your route and schedule when venturing into the backcountry. This is important, especially in emergencies.

a beginner skier ready to take on the backcountry

Your own fitness

Be aware of your health and fitness level before skiing. It's important to be fit when backcountry skiing as it can get quite strenuous. If skiing is not a frequent activity for you, start with runs. It's essential to warm up before skiing. A simple warm-up routine of jumping jacks and squats will help get your heart rate up and prepare your muscles for skiing.

Backcountry skiing techniques

Backcountry ski techniques vary depending on the terrain and snow conditions. In general, skiing downhill is easier than skiing uphill. However this also depends on your fitness level and ski technique Different techniques are required for soft snow and deep snow, and these can help you in the varied snow conditions that your will find in the backcountry.

Knowing these basic manoeuvres will help your skiing:

  • In tricky snow with a crusty top layer, if you can't turn easily you can make diagonal runs across the slope, halting to do a kick turn before heading in the opposite direction. This way you can zig zag down a slope with tricky snow without falling too much.
  • When climbing up hill, keep your skis on the snow, sliding them up hill rather than lifting them. Also keep your weight over the skis; the skins will work better.
  • Skiing uphill: If you're skiing in steeper terrain it is easier and usually safer to zig zag across the slope rather than try to ski straight up. Route selection is important so you do not increase avalanche risk by cutting across loaded slopes. Once again, a guide can give you a sense of good route selection.

The terrain and avalanches

Backcountry skiing is not like resort skiing. In ski resorts, the operators and ski patrol spend a lot of time and energy reducing the risks associated with snow conditions and snow build up. In the backcountry, you have to manage the risk yourself.

Generally, steeper terrain will have higher risk of avalanche. In icy conditions, it is also quite treacherous. Caution is required when selecting your route as many factors come into it. You can join specialist backcountry training courses to learn about these risks and how to manage them.

Every terrain variation requires a different set of skills. Before skiing any terrain, it's important to assess the conditions and know your abilities. Check the weather advisory and avalanche forecast before skiing to be aware of the conditions. Also, bring your avalanche safety equipment with you.

The wild and wilder things

The backcountry in Australia is within the national parks and many areas are classified as wilderness. Leave no trace of your trip and respect these unique environments. Remember not to walk needlessly on sensitive vegetation and carry all garbage and waste back with you.

Things that might go wrong

By Murphy's Law, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Be prepared for the unimaginable and brace yourself for slipping, falling, getting lost, avalanches, and anything else.

beginner skier holds a flare up

Bring first aid and know how to use it

A first aid kit is a must in the backcountry. Be sure to know how to use it and what's in it. In case the need arises, view the situation first and administer first aid.

You might get lost, but know the tracks

Know how to navigate your way back. Make sure to stay together. Be sure to know the area and have a map and compass and more hi-tech navigation aids. Stay mindful of the inherent risks. It's also better to prepare a distress signal in advance. If you get lost, this will help rescuers find you. Emergency Locator Beacon can be rented from the National Park Centre in Jindabyne.

Always go with groups or have a buddy

Being with a group that has backcountry experience is essential. If someone gets hurt, there's always someone there to help. An experienced backcountry skier buddy is great for a beginner because they can teach you the ropes. A mountain guide that has avalanche safety training is also a great companion.

Start your backcountry skiing adventures in Thredbo

In Australia, Thredbo is the perfect place to do some backcountry skiing. With its long runs, diverse terrain, and great facilities, Thredbo has everything you need to get started.

Lantern Apartments can provide you with a base before and after you start your backcountry adventure. With our convenient location and comfortable apartments, we'll make sure you have everything you need to enjoy your time in Thredbo.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start skiing! Contact now!