How to make a smooth leap from desk to dream backcountry trip

There’s plenty of preparation to do the week before you head off on tour, from ironing your waterproofs to checking your ski insurance…

Between clearing your desk and being cleared for take-off, there’s a lot that needs to be done in the packing and preparation department before setting off on a big – or even a little – ski touring or backcountry trip.

You probably think you’re the only one who agonises over what to pack, what to take just in case and what to leave behind. Right? Well, here’s a confession: it doesn’t matter how much of this you do, it never gets easier and you never get more confident in the details.

Want to reach summits like this? Heed our words

Want to reach summits like this? Heed our words

As a trainee guide I had a mentor who said you don’t get any better at choosing the right kit; you just get better at suffering in silence and not letting on. I also have a colleague who admitted that if he won the lottery he wouldn’t give up guiding – but he’d pay someone to pack his rucksack!

So, assuming you are heading for a Saturday flight and working until the end of the week, here’s my whistlestop countdown of all the events that need to happen in the days before you go, so that you’re ready to hit the floor running when you get to the mountains.

The weekend before

Now’s the time for a reality check. This could be your last chance to shop, so work out what kit you need and be sure that everything you have is in working order. Get your gear out of the loft and check it over. And make sure you do it in time to sort, mend or replace anything before the weekend is out and the shops are shut.

While you’re at it:

  • Write a list of all the tinkering jobs you can do in the evenings this week.
  • Wash and iron your waterproofs. Yes, really! Those lightweight shell garments perform so much better (and keep you much drier) if they’re clean and the water-repellent coating has been reactivated by a warm, but not smouldering, iron. In fact, get out, check out and wash out all your kit – especially those old ski socks.
  • Check your skin glue as it can decay over the course of the summer. If in doubt, freshen it up with an aerosol skin glue; the solvents are as useful as the adhesive content in giving them a new lease of life.
  • λ Service your skis. If it’s the first trip of the season it’s time to grease up and tighten the bindings and scrape off the summer storage wax coat. Then give them a wax and a polish.
  • Check the bits you never need – the ones that have gone mouldy, like spares, repairs, transceiver batteries and first aid kit. Oh yeah, and you did service that transceiver at the end of last/start of this season didn’t you? Well, make sure there are no leaky batteries in there now by putting some fresh ones in.
  • Check your travel insurance and passport. I have seen it all, from out of date passports to people arriving with their partner’s travel tickets. Check it all now!

Get your daily fix of pre-trip excitement by doing something useful and informative, such as:

  • Check the avalanche bulletin daily. I like to use the “White Risk” app and keep an eye on avalanches.org. All the better if you can find (and store) the URL for your local avalanche bulletin now before you go.
  • Check the weather forecast and pay particular attention to snowfall, wind and temperature.
  • Build a picture of what’s happening and what the conditions are like by watching things develop throughout the week. This way you’ll know which aspects, and how high up you’ll need to go, to find the best snow when you get there.
  • Check any hut bookings are in order and confirm final numbers if anything changes. Don’t forget to let them know if you have special dietary needs.

On Thursday…

View the Thursday before departure as the final deadline, not the Friday. This will help avoid the crippling last-minute rush that always spoils all your fun and leaves you run-down and vulnerable to bugs (and shouting):

  • Clear your desk at work as much as possible by close of play on Thursday. Then, if you can, really treat yourself by putting your ‘out of office’ on early!
  • Make a neat pile of all the things you want to pack, out on display. It will get you psyched and give you a chance to notice missing or duplicated items. Then go to bed early and get a good night’s kip… waking only to scribble a note of that essential item you would have forgotten if you were doing this on Friday.

Trust me, I see so many people screw up their valuable touring trip by arriving tired and in chaos. Sure, this is just a week’s skiing we are talking about – not an ascent of Everest – but if you set off feeling run-down you will pick up something grim on the plane, just when your body needs to be making red blood cells for altitude, rather than white ones to shift a cold.

On Friday…

Check the forecast for the week ahead. How high, how hot, which layers, what weather is coming? Then tweak that tidy pile of kit to give yourself the right layers.

Now pack to make life easy, but without losing valuable kit at check-in. So keep all the sharp items ready to re-pack into your day or hut-to-hut pack – but keep them in your hold luggage for travelling. If you have gas cylinders, make sure you have some documentation, or at least a plan for how they need to travel.

On Saturday…

Yeah – we’re on the way! There’s nothing we can do now, so chill and enjoy the travelling. And make sure you stay hydrated (jeepers, I’m starting to sound like your mum)!

Land, travel, gather and re-pack everything ready for your first day’s skiing or skinning. I like to pack my bag for the following morning as soon as possible. Otherwise I have a habit of heading out and finding myself in the bar with the dancing bear with very little clue of what needs to happen next.

That’s it, we’ve nailed it – we’re on tour!

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