Backcountry skiing with Wasatch Mountain Guides will be one of your most unique and memorable experiences in the mountains. We are run by two internationally certified mountain guides, aka IFMGA American Mountain Guides, Todd Passey and Willie Benegas. Both their resume and certifications, as well as practical experience, prove their skills in the three disciplines of rock climbing, alpine climbing, and skiing. We can create and guide any type of adventure, customized to your experience and goals. The following article will help you understand what a day skiing with Wasatch Mountain Guides would be like. As of right now we offer these types of backcountry ski touring adventures and courses:
Hire a Ski Guide: Ski and Splitboard Touring (book this adventure if you want the most customized day of backcountry skiing)
After booking a trip with Wasatch Mountain Guides, you’ll want to learn what a day out backcountry skiing will be like. Let’s review a day from pre-trip planning all the way through the debrief at the end of the day.
The advantage of hiring a certified mountain guide is that you can be sure that the area (zone), objectives (ski runs), and logistics will be covered. That’s what we’re paid to do. As a client of a mountain guide, you will have a waiver and other necessary forms to complete. We will send you those forms. A ski or mountaineering guide is a great resource to have in the event of a backcountry emergency. Not only are we, at a minimum, Wilderness First Responder certified, we also are trained on emergency rescue protocols. We know how to efficiently contact emergency services and are trained on first aid and extraction. Most rescues are “free” on federal lands (except in cases of obvious negligence) and Wasatch Mountain Guides has liability insurance. This is required for guiding operations by federal land management. For the longer trips (and in general!) we do recommend that you think about getting rescue insurance. GEOS (acquired by Garmin) is one of the most popular options, especially if you have a Garmin inReach® product.
Your Gear for a Day Backcountry Skiing
Ski touring gear can be so expensive. A day out in the backcountry requires the proper clothing layers, headware (hat, helmet, beanie, buff), proper equipment on your feet and in your backpack.
What You (a client) Needs for Backcountry Skiing:
- Water, lunch, and snacks
- Alpine touring, telemark ski or split-snowboard equipment
- Plus more, here is our backcountry touring equipment list
What Wasatch Mountain Guides Provides:
We will provide you with all the communications and directions necessary in order to prepare for your day of backcountry skiing. Our professionals are certified guides, wilderness first aid certified, and avalanche assessment and rescue certified. And the best part, we provide a local’s knowledge of the area!
Wasatch Mountain Guides can provide (no extra cost):
- Avalanche beacon
- Ski touring backpack
Wasatch Mountain Guides can rent the following equipment:
- Ice axe
- Ski crampons (if we have a pair that fits your ski bindings and ski width)
A couple tips that some people wouldn’t think about is to bring sunglasses. You don’t want to go on a ski tour with goggles on when it’s sunny. You’ll be sweating in no time. Also, I like to bring a savory and quality lunch. You don’t want to pack a lot of weight, but some well thought out food (a well crafted sandwich, even cold pizza!) for your lunch stop will enhance and reenergize you in the middle of the day. Don’t bring pretzels for lunch.
Eat smart, sleep plenty, and double-check your equipment the night before and you’ll be prepared for an amazing day out backcountry skiing or winter mountaineering (or both!).
Meeting at the Trailhead for the Ski Tour
Usually the night before, your guide will confirm a meeting place and time. “Meet at the trailhead” at 8:00 am means it is best if you are ready to go at 8:00 am. Arrive 15 minutes before that so you can get dressed, get your boots, and double check your gear that you prepared the night before. Typically we are meeting in parking lots and it’s usually no problem to find each other.
We’ll walk to the trailhead wherever we’ll put on our skis or splitboard and then do a safety discussion and a beacon check. In the safety discussion we’ll discuss our trip plan and routes for the day, recent weather and the weather forecast, avalanche conditions, other potential hazards, and protocol during an emergency situation, e.g. a bad fall or avalanche. Use that time to voice concerns, ask questions, seek clarification, or anything else. Everyone participating in group communication is key to successful group dynamics. Following the safety discussion we’ll do a beacon check. A beacon check is essential and you and your guide should never leave the trailhead without it.
The Uphill of Backcountry Touring
As we hike to our ski runs, we’ll be giving pointers and demonstrating how to efficiently ski tour. We all have strengths and weaknesses but there are some basics that we should all practice. This video covers some fundamental skills while backcountry ski touring uphill and would be good to review before our first day out:
Good route finding is key to a safe and efficient experience. Ask your guide why they’re choosing the route uphill that they are. You might learn a lot about good terrain assessment, one of the most important skills to hone in the backcountry. Key factors to remember are:
- Climb the terrain with least consequence: minimize probability of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Plus, this terrain is typically easier to ascend.
- Use safe zones, seek higher ground: also great places for gathering, discussing the current route and plan.
- Have an escape plan: what do I do, where do I go in an emergency?
- Minimize exposure of the group: go one at a time in certain terrain.
- Plus lots more that your guide will keep in mind!
Layering and Equipment while Ascending
It’s better to have many lighter layers than one thick jacket. Uphill skinning is hard work! If you bring a thick jacket but can’t take it off because you’ll be too cold or too wet, then you will sweat too much. And sweating in the backcountry can not only be uncomfortable when the sweat cools and chills, it could also become a more serious issue. If possible, wear a moisture-wicking base layer. This could help regulate cooling and chills when you sweat. More importantly, bring multiple layers so you can peel them on and off as needed. Typically, I wear a base-layer, mid-layer, and a hardshell when hiking. At most I need to remove the hardshell jacket. At the summit, I pull out my down jacket and throw that on so I maintain my body temperature and do not cool down too much.
Some tours will include using ski crampons, boot crampons, an ice axe, or harness. All have their advantages and your guide will know if your tour potentially needs this equipment. We’ll make sure to coordinate that beforehand. Your guide will be sure to have you stop and transition to this equipment in a safe zone. If you have your own equipment, try practicing attaching your ski and boot crampons. It’s good to familiarize yourself with the process and to confirm that your crampons fit your skis or boots respectively.
The Down (Skiing and Snowboarding!) of Backcountry Touring
This is what you came for, right? I mean, the entire experience is worth it and something to enjoy. But skiing an unforgettable line in an unforgettable landscape is what brought you here. So we need to transition from uphill to downhill skiing and prepare to safely ride our lines. There are some key things we will practice:
- Make a plan: we will discuss the line, escape plan, where to stop and meet.
- Involved with making a plan, terrain assessment: what’s potential avalanche hazard, what zones are most susceptible. But also, What will be the most fun (but safe) line to ski!
- Safe zones and pre-planned locations: where do we ski to for safety, where are safe places to stop and meet, where do we meet if we lose each other?
- Communication: voice your planned line and plan to the group. Two-way radios are best. This allows the guide to voice any concerns, signal when it’s OK to ski, and give ski beta and advice on hazards. Without two-way radios, maintaining yelling distance is an option (when possible), or if within visual sight, hand signals are also an option.
Hiring a backcountry ski guide will ensure that your group is led by someone that considers all these protocols. And will take the lead on making sure everyone else is aware of and participating in a safe but fun and rewarding experience. Never forget that it’s OK to voice concerns or any observed hazards to the guide. When you tour with Wasatch Mountain Guides, you are part of a group. In order to succeed as a group, everyone needs to feel welcome to participate.
Once back at the trailhead we’ll exchange high fives and other celebratory salutations. We did it. We hope the day was as memorable as you expected. In addition to those feelings of accomplishment, we may also discuss our tour and ski down. Some important questions to ask, during a professional or recreational day out in the backcountry, are:
- What went wrong?
- What went right?
- When were we most at risk?
- Should we have done anything different?
- Lastly, relish in the experience with each other!
The American Avalanche Institute uses this list:
- Any bad decisions today?
- Did you manage the terrain well? Any improvements?
- Did the conditions match the avalanche forecast?
- Any concerns for future tours?
- Any observations you can submit to the local forecast center?
You can be sure that the guide/s on your tour will debrief each other or with their guide operation. Your guide might not get so in-depth with you, but rest assured that your guide will be considering all these factors following your ski tour.
What did you learn while backcountry skiing or splitboarding? Use this opportunity when hiring a ski guide to make many mental or written notes concerning how to make your uphill and downhill travel more efficient. Focus on layering, the uphill terrain assessment, equipment use, the descent, communication, etc. I know that I am continually honing my skills. There is always something to learn and apply during your next skiing or snowboarding experience.
We all love to ride the snow, and Wasatch Mountain Guides wants to share that love for mountains and snow with you. Contact us at any time and we can discuss a customized backcountry skiing trip, avalanche education course, or mountaineering mentorship that fits your skills and goals. Until then, enjoy the riding!