Ellis Brigham Backcountry Advice
Image Source: Adventurejay
Untouched powder away from the hustle and bustle of crowds has always attracted skiers and snowboarders. The introduction of backcountry equipment that’s easier to use has seen growth in these numbers.
As off-piste areas become more accessible there is a bigger than ever need to educate skiers and snowboarders about the potential dangers and how to get the most out of the backcountry. We spoke to some of our most experienced backcountry skiers and asked them to share their backcountry wisdom.
Whilst speaking to staff members the single thing that stood out was their commitment to never stop learning. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned veteran there is always more to learn.
- Years riding BC:18
- Favourite BC mountain: Back Corries (Nevis Range)
- BC Set up: Dynafit Chugach
- Try to keep all your gear as lightweight as possible. It's going to be less strenuous skinning up, especially on longer climbs.
- Your skis should be taller than you and no thinner than 95mm at the waist.
- In terms of boots, the stiffer the better, soft boots can absorb energy on the ascent and they also provide less precision/performance on the descent.
You can soon get hot working your way up a trail, then at the summit you can get cold quickly. The most effective clothing for touring is an adaptable '3-4 Technical Layering System' (shell jacket, mid-layer fleece, baselayer). This allows hot air and moisture to escape whilst protecting you from the wind and weather..
- Slide your skis, don’t lift them when you are skinning up - it's more efficient and stops the edge slipping out.
- Use the 'kick-turn' technique - it’s the best way of turning on steeps.
- Make sure to use your ski poles - they help take the load from your legs.
- Adjust the binding heel piece to match the terrain (flat – medium = small angle/ medium - steep = large angle).
- Non-fluoride wax helps your skins stay sticky for longer.
Covent Garden, London
- Years riding BC: 6
- Favourite BC mountain: Back of Blackcomb Mountain (B.C Canada)
- BC Set up: DPS Wailer 99 Pure3 skis, G3 Ion binding, Dynafit TLT6 Performance boots, BD Momix skins
Make sure your ski, boot and binding choice are complementary, don’t pick up that awesome superlight boot and strap it onto a stiff, wide plank and frame binding.
Prioritise breathability and ease of movement in your ski pants, jacket and layers. Softshells and merino wool baselayers work well and pare down your gear to travel as light as possible.
- Cross avalanche paths one at a time, it’s slower but safer.
- Dial in your kick turns and work on keeping balanced whilst skinning. It's more efficient and will leave you with more energy for the ride down.
- When you start your ascent wear minimal layers. You’ll soon warm up to the right temperature and avoid excessive sweating.
- Don’t follow tracks just because they’re there, you might end up lost (I have experienced this myself).
- Suunto Movescount community has lots of user-uploaded ski touring routes that you can download and use to supplement your map. The heatmap component is a useful extra that allows you to see how well travelled a route is. <li >When planning an expedition look for resorts/areas with relatively stable snowpack. If possible time your trip for when there are more daylight hours and (hopefully) more settled weather.
- Years riding BC: 10
- Favourite BC mountain: Mont Ford (Verbier, Switzerland)
- BC Set up: Line Prophet 98, Marker Baron binding, Salomon Questmax 130 boots
Most of the skins I do are under an hour and generally looking for fresh snow, so I don’t mind having a set up that is heavier but allows me to charge on the downs.
Definitely pack a thin pair of gloves for the way up. It’s worth changing out of your normal ski gloves and into something lighter like a softshell or fleece glove when you are putting your skins on. It may be a little chilly to start with but once you start moving you'll soon heat up. If you don’t change your gloves they can become sweaty and wet, this itself isn’t an issue until you reach the top and cool down. Cold wet gloves are a recipe for frozen fingers.
Get into the habit of turning your transceiver on before you leave the apartment in the morning and don’t turn it off until you are back in the apartment at the end of the day. Too many times have I seen people switch them off at lunch (to save the batteries) and then forget to turn them on again in the afternoon. It’s just not worth the risk.
- Years riding BC: 4
- Favourite BC mountain: Chamonix/Mont Blanc Massif
- BC Set up:(Lightweight): Scott Punisher 95; Dynafit Radical ST; Dynafit TLT 5 / (Heavy Duty): Armada Norwalk 115; Atomic Tracker 16; Scarpa Freedom SL
If you want downhill performance, go for a wider ski and a frame style binding; it’ll be harder work on the skin track but worth it on the way down.
- Be sure to check the avalanche forecast before you head out into the backcountry and never venture off-piste without a transceiver, shovel and probe and the correct training on how to use them.
- Basic knowledge of mountaineering skills (abseiling; ropework; building anchors) opens up a world of potential when accessing steep lines and gullies. This is particularly useful in resorts such as La Grave and Chamonix.
Before you head out on your next backcountry adventure make sure you know how to do it in a safe manner. A good place to start is our backcountry safety guide.