Try Going Off-Piste This Ski Season
While the appeal of neatly groomed corduroy is great, there’s just one thing that’s better: carving through waist-deep pow! And if you’re not quite into the skiing lingo yet, here’s a translation: a freshly prepared slope is very good, but going off-piste is even better.
Away from the well-equipped ski resorts with their lifts, bars and slope grooming, skiing becomes a serious mountain activity. Going off-piste places the responsibility on you. There’s no first-aid, often no phone signal, and most likely nobody around. Before setting off on your first backcountry trip, you should already by a confident piste skier, and participating in a three-day avalanche safety course is highly recommended.
Like any serious mountain sport, backcountry skiing works your grit and your fitness. Before starting out, some people might wonder if the ride down is worth the harrowing ascent. In reality, the climb up can be as beautiful as the drop, and chances are you will never want to ride a chairlift again!
Beginner friendly backcountry locations
Out-of-business skiing areas offer a slightly tamer version of the wilderness, and therefore a great stomping ground for aspiring ski tourers. In Colorado alone, there are about 200 forgotten ski resorts. The lifts are gone, but the slopes are still there, and often covered in perfect pow.
West Virginia’s White Grass and Vermont’s Mount Ascutney might not have any ski lifts either, but what they do have is beginner-friendly terrain and warming huts stocked with hot chocolate and - for après-ski only - booze.
The vast Lake Tahoe is one of the country’s most famed ski touring destinations and it offers a good number of beginner-friendly areas. Admittedly, wherever you go there’s a lot to learn before you can safely navigate the backcountry. If you don’t feel confident, taking your first off-piste steps with a guide might be a great way of easing yourself into it.
Skiing schools and guided tours
Most of the popular skiing destinations offer guided backcountry tours, and very often it’s also possible to rent gear. In Utah, you can not only hire a guide, but also participate in beginner clinics and avalanche courses. In Wyoming, you can follow a guide up the Teton Pass. And further from home in the Canadian Rockies, you can learn the basics over the course of a weekend.
Once you sink your teeth into it, backcountry skiing opens up endless opportunities for winter adventures. You might find yourself touring from hut to hut in Colorado, dropping into steep Alpine couloirs in Europe or, who knows, maybe even heli-skiing in Alaska. It all starts with leaving the groomed slopes behind and stepping into the wild.