Backcountry Skiing: 7 Ways to Get the Goods

March 18, 2016

by Drew Zieff
Backcountry Skiing: 7 Ways to Get the Goods

Spring is, arguably, the best time of year to venture into the backcountry. With temperatures fluctuating between those warm days and cold nights, the snowpack becomes isothermal, meaning temperatures are consistent from the snow surface to the ground.

While this long-awaited “freeze thaw cycle” doesn’t negate the need for avalanche safety gear, it does mean that the snowpack starts to become more stable and backcountry enthusiasts can start eyeing steeper, more technical lines that might not have been safe earlier in the season.

{Editor’s note: If you haven’t taken an avalanche safety class, take a look at AIARE’s course list}

For those ready to chase some spring lines, here are a few of our favorite ways to do it:

1. By Foot

Drew Zieff

This is the most common – and cheapest – way to “earn your turns.” Spring backcountry missions often require a mix of hiking, skinning and bootpacking. You might even need crampons, an ice axe and technical climbing gear to get the job done.


  • That excellent workout
  • You get in tune with nature
  • You can use the hashtag #earnyourturns and feel pretty good about yourself
  • It’s free!


  • You won’t get as many laps in as your motorized rivals

2. Car Laps

Car laps are a beautiful thing. Get a few buddies together, drop one car off at the bottom of the pass, cram into one vehicle and burn up the road a lot quicker than you would the skin track. There aren’t a ton of places where you can make this happen, but when you do, the opportunities are endless.


  • Laps on laps


  • You burn gas instead of calories
  • Sometimes, you have to drive instead of ski

3. Snowmobile


A photo posted by Parker White (@white_parker) on

There’s a reason why your favorite pros often film most of their backcountry video parts with the help of snowmobiles: they’re cheaper options than cat or heli operations, you can access insane terrain and all you need is one other buddy to get after it.


  • You can cover miles and miles in a day
  • You can throw two people on one snowmobile and get multiple laps
  • You can lug heavy equipment (cameras, beer, etc.)
  • They’re super fun to ride


  • They’re beyond loud
  • If something breaks down, you better know how to fix it

4. Lifts

Lio DelPiccolo

Don’t forget, those chairlifts are still spinnin’ in spring! Whether you’re dipping into the sidecountry at your local resort or checking out a one-of-a-kind dream destination like Silverton, ski resorts are a great basecamp to work from.


  • Quicker access to high-alpine terrain
  • Laps on laps


  • If you can ride ‘em, so can everyone else. True “first tracks” are hard to find
  • Lift tickets aren’t cheap

5. Cat Skiing

The Cat is the poor man’s helicopter. Of course, Cat skiing isn’t cheap, but it’s certainly cheaper than a heli drop. Cat skiing operations vary; some cruise out from your local resort, some are just off the beaten path and some are based in remote backcountry lodges accessible only by helicopter or snowmobile. A good day of cat skiing can see you clocking upwards of 10 or even 15K feet of vert in a day—which is a rarity in the backcountry unless you’re a masochistic monster with legs made of steel and a penchant for pain.


  • Laps on laps
  • Remote locations
  • If you do see any skinning skiers, you can point and laugh


  • Expensive may be an understatement

6. Helicopter

The holy grail. From Alaska to Argentina, heli operations represent the dream of every rider: to stand on top of the line of your life as the chopper fades into the distance.


  • Powder, powder and more powder
  • Access to some of the best, biggest and most remote mountains in the world


  • Second mortgage may be required

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