How to… plan a backcountry adventure, part 1

Check out our top trip-of-the-year tips to plan and execute your next ski tour without any hitches. Part 1: Aspirations and fitness

It is that time of year when we find ourselves drooling over the options, and knocking out a bucket-list that would take a lifetime. So how do you find a way to focus in on your next epic descent, and how do you get your friends along for the ride? First things first, you need to decide what it is you want to do, and you need to make a few key choices:

On the up: most people can comfortably skin 6-800m in a day off the couch | Photo courtesy of Scott Sports

On the up: most people can comfortably skin 6-800m in a day off the couch | Photo courtesy of Scott Sports

Aspirations

This is the most important, and the one you can do down the boozer. You’ve watched the movies; you’ve perused the mags; now get down the pub and find out if your image of a dream holiday matches up with those of your mates. It’s way better to thrash this out now than discover you have incompatible agendas when you make the first turns. It’s also a lot of fun and the best part of the process. This is the part when you want to work out what sort of trip you are going on. One person’s ski tour is another’s mountaineering epic – so get that sorted ASAP.

Backcountry, slackcountry, sidecountry? Lifts, some lifts, no lifts? You choose. But agree what you want, before you settle on where to go. It’s also worth considering the kind of snow you want to ski. Don’t go expecting to pile down those classic steeps in January, nor rely on powder in April. Sure, you can always get lucky, but it’s best to hatch a plan with a high chance of success.

Fitness

One of the biggest factors in planning a trip is to consider everyone’s fitness. There is no point in setting off on that dream objective, only to find that you run out of beans halfway up. Agree in advance what your ideal ratio of uphill:downhill might be. Then honestly confess to what your maximum threshold for the uphill really is!

I like to think about it in terms of metres climbed, rather than hours of effort. Most people can comfortably skin 6-800m in a day off the couch. More than this and you will need to be keen and committed, with a benchmark for most touring days around the 1,000m mark. Anything more than 1,200m is a big ascent for a regular once-a-year skier. The great thing about skiing is that there is going to be a destination that matches any combination to satisfy any appetite, however…

Skills

Being fit enough to get up and over the col is just one part of the equation: you are going to need a few skills along the way. Not only do we mean skiing skills (to ski those dream couloirs on the other side) but route-finding skills, snow and avalanche skills, and skinning/climbing skills if required. There are two ways to tackle this one:

Plan A Acknowledge the skills you’ve got, and plan accordingly. For example, if you have no idea how to rescue someone out of a crevasse, then keep off the glaciated routes. Can’t navigate for toffee? Then you need a plan that keeps you happy in resort when the weather bags out.

Plan B Work out what skills you need, and then outsource them. From ski coaching to high mountain guiding, there’ll be a professional available to top up the skills deficit in the team.

The only problem with Plan B is that it comes at a cost…

Finance

So we’ve got the dream plan and we know just how much skinning to skiing we want to do. We’ve done our training needs analysis and we have all the skills we might require. This is where the evil cash can put the best-laid plans on the back-burner. The good news is that if you are now focused on the ingredients of your ideal trip, it is just a matter of finding an alternative location for the key ingredients.

Got your heart set on a dream descent in Zermatt? Well have a look and see if you can approach from the Italian side. Way cheaper, and way better coffee!

Invites

The right trip can be absolutely ruined by skiing with the wrong people. I have seen numerous dream trips blown apart with a simple “my mate Jim-Bob has asked if he can come along…”

Be very, very careful when deciding who is going to join the team. You’ve shared your hopes and aspirations; you’re in the midst of planning your dream trip in the dream venue; you know you all have the skills you need to rip it up – and then you introduce the last-minute random. Really?

All you need to do is loop back to the top of the list, and find out if it is all still going to work. 

Fall-Line Skiing |
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