Backcountry newbie advice?

Moderators: Bob, Matt, mark, scotthsu

Backcountry newbie advice?

Postby maubin » Wed Dec 03, 2008 6:25 pm

Hello-

I would like to try backcountry skiing, but am looking for advice on how to get started.

I've been skiing for 27 years, and can handle any kind of terrain, however I've always been an in-bounds resort skier. That said, I've skied the steeps at Taos, Mammoth, Jackson Hole, Snowbird, and Alta without any problem, so I'm very confident in my ability level.

But, at the same time, I am very aware of when I get over my head, and so I'll be the first to say I don't know the first thing about avalanche awareness, rescue, etc.

I would love to be able to go with a guide or a group for the first time to get a taste of the backcountry (whether it be a trip to Nambe chutes or other), and then put in the time to learn what I need to know, whether it be Avy courses, or whatever. But if education is required first, then happy to start down that path.

Advice?

BTW, I moved to Santa Fe with my wife and kids in July 2007, so am also very much looking forward to also meet other skiers in the area.

Thanks!
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Re: Backcountry newbie advice?

Postby scotthsu » Wed Dec 03, 2008 7:23 pm

welcome to the area!

there are basically two new aspects for safe progression from being a proficient inbounds to backcountry skier:

1. knowledge/education on avalanche terrain, snowpack stability, safe travel, in-the-field analysis techniques, and rescue. this is all best done via a combination of reading books, going out with experienced people, and taking a level 1 avalanche course. I believe the Sandia Peak ski patrol is offering a course this coming season.

2. getting the needed gear (skins, randonee bindings, shovel, beacon, probe) and becoming familiar with their use. if you are a telemark skier, then you have less new gear to buy.

#1 and #2 can be pursued simultaneously. for example, you can get your hands on skins and AT (alpine touring) gear, and start skinning up low angle slopes with no avalanche danger, or better yet skin up ski resorts such as Santa Fe or Pajarito when they are not open.

i would not go into uncontrolled avalanche terrain until you have progressed a ways down #1. at the very least, you should have shovel/beacon/probe and be familiar with their use and go out with trusted experienced people.

feel free to PM me if you want any more info or want to skin up pajarito (when we finally get some snow).

good luck,
Scott
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Postby Bob » Wed Dec 03, 2008 7:40 pm

Hey there,

So far, the Taos patrol has scheduled an Avy 1 course:
http://www.nnmae.org/edu.html

I'm hoping to get one put on in Santa Fe later this winter - keep an eye on that page above.

Come see me at Sangre de Cristo Mountainworks and we can talk about the gear and some of the locations and such (maybe we've already spoken?). I'm going to be there Fridays and Saturdays though the winter.

The classic way for people in the Santa Fe area to cut their backcountry teeth is to ski the Big Tesuque ("Big T") from the ski area. You need to be careful because you can get lost. Last season a couple of boarders ended up spending three nights out when they took the wrong lift and got confused in a whiteout. Find some partners to show you the way. You can post here to try to hook up with partners - it's worked for some people.
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Postby maubin » Wed Dec 03, 2008 7:41 pm

Scott,

Thanks for the reply!

Since I was planning on getting new non-AT gear this season (alpine skier), I think I'll focus on education this season, and then depending on finances with this economy, get AT gear and try skinning Ski Santa Fe after it closes in April.

Two questions if you don't mind, and sorry if they're elementary...

1) Books/websites you'd recommend?
2) I'm an Alpine skier, so I'll naturally be on the AT side (have never telemark'd before), I assume your traditional all mountain ski can't serve as both? So I'll need an AT set of gear and a 'resort' set? I know you have to have randonee bindings and such, but I assume if I'm planning on skiing inbounds, I probably don't want to use my AT skis and equipment... right? There's not a one ski quiver?

Thanks!

Mark
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Postby Matt » Wed Dec 03, 2008 8:00 pm

Mark-

Get a pair of fatties with Marker Dukes. All the usefullness a locked down skier needs. It's a setup that will cover the slackcountry experience that you seek. Not the best setup for long all day tours, but it will get you in and out of the close in shots and still have the robust construction needed for in bounds skiing. It's a true one ski setup.

Read a book, find a group of wise backcountry Yodas to ski with, and get your feet wet.

Just don't be too confident; skiing ability is not the key to becoming a good backcountry skier/traveller.

cheers
Matt
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Postby Matt » Wed Dec 03, 2008 8:07 pm

Books-

Here's ones that I would recommend:

Snow Sense
by Alaskan Mountain Safety Center
It's a good basic book about avalanches and bc safety


Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain
by Bruce Tremper
If you own one book, go for this one


The Avalanche Handbook
by Peter Schearer and David McClung
A little more techie, used as required reading for many Level II courses


I use all of these and more.
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Postby Bob » Wed Dec 03, 2008 9:17 pm

More books:
"Backcountry Skiing" by Martin Volken, Scott Schell, Margaret Wheeler
"Allen and Mike's Really Cool Backcountry Ski Book" by Allen O'Bannon, Mike Clellend

Websites:
http://www.wildsnow.com/
http://straightchuter.com/
http://www.telemarktips.com/
http://www.offpistemag.com/
http://www.tetonat.com/
http://www.turns-all-year.com/
http://www.tetongravity.com/forums/
http://www.backcountrymagazine.com/
http://www.avalanche-center.org/
http://www.avalanche.org/

Matt's recommendation on the Marker Duke is a good one for a one-ski quiver - also consider the Marker Baron if you want a lighter one with lower DIN release capability.
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Postby maubin » Thu Dec 04, 2008 12:11 am

Thanks everyone for the great info!

Bob, I was in the store this afternoon; I asked if you guys had the mountain hardwear kramer jacket, not sure who I talked to though. prob not you if you are only in on Fri/Sat.
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one ski quiver etc

Postby scotthsu » Thu Dec 04, 2008 10:24 am

hey mark,

there are some good responses above. i'd start with the snow sense book, as it is the most concise (and cheapest). I like the Bruce Tremper book a lot if you want more details. the allen/mike book on backcountry skiing is a must-have.

if you're buying new gear, i think it's very possible to get a "one ski quiver" for both inbounds, "sidecountry," and bc. Unless you're going to be hucking cliffs or you weigh 250 lbs., i'd consider fritschi free-rides instead of marker dukes. I think they are a good balance for an inbounds/bc setup. Again, unless you're gonna be skiing nothing but snorkel powder or doing Alaskan peaks, for skis, i'd get something around 85mm at the waist with decent sidecut (~<20m turning radius) so you have decent turn-initiation and decent flotation. I think that's the most fun for an inbounds/bc, on/off-piste one ski quiver.

in addition to the websites listed by Bob, also check out:
http://avalanche.state.co.us/
http://www.summitpost.org/view_object.p ... _id=444870

-Scott
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Postby Bob » Thu Dec 04, 2008 12:30 pm

maubin wrote:Thanks everyone for the great info!

Bob, I was in the store this afternoon; I asked if you guys had the mountain hardwear kramer jacket, not sure who I talked to though. prob not you if you are only in on Fri/Sat.

Nope, wasn't me.
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Re: one ski quiver etc

Postby Matt » Fri Dec 05, 2008 12:20 pm

scotthsu wrote:for skis, i'd get something around 85mm at the waist with decent sidecut (~<20m turning radius) so you have decent turn-initiation and decent flotation.




Scott and I obviously have a differing opinion of a good ski for mixed conditions....

I prefer a 90-100mm waist ski with moderate to low sidecut (26-32m turn radius), and a rounded and slightly upturned tail. I'm not a fan of skis with lots of sidecut in the bc; they cause too many problems when standing in steep, icy coolies. Just stay away from skis with metal layers when going this fat so you don't end up with something too heavy. Here's the definitive discussion on ski weights:

http://www.tetongravity.com/forums/showthread.php?t=76416


Fritschi Freerides have long been the standard, I'll give them a thumbs up as well, but they may develop some lateral slop if you ski bumps frequently.


Stoke photos

Williams Lake Basin
Image


Nambe Basin
Image



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Postby Bob » Sat Dec 06, 2008 10:15 am

Oh, stoke photos! What the heck, a couple more won't hurt. I've always liked these two from a Team NNMAE trip to Santa Fe Baldy a while back:

Webster Mark:
Image

Mod Matt:
Image

Welcome to NM, maubin.
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skis etc

Postby scotthsu » Sat Dec 06, 2008 11:12 am

nice photos. certainly haven't gotten stoke like that yet during my 4 days at wolf creek so far this season.

mark, matt et al, definitely to each their own regarding skis. i think my main point before (perhaps poorly expressed) is that what skis you get should depend on your style and terrain preference (duh). i hear a lot of default advice to "get fatties," but that may not be the right advice for everybody, especially as an inbounds/bc one-ski quiver, or for people who like to ski bumps and (gasp) do shorter radius turns. :wink:

mark, by the way, what terrain/style do you like? shoulda asked that first.

cheers,
S
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Re: skis etc

Postby maubin » Tue Dec 09, 2008 4:30 pm

scotthsu wrote:
mark, by the way, what terrain/style do you like? shoulda asked that first.



Well, pretty much everything. I did a lot of racing when I was in my early teens, then moved on to freestyle/bumps. The last 10 years I've focused more on steeps, but still all inbounds. I still enjoy good bumps through. The only run I've ever turned away from was Corbet's in Jackson Hole. 30 ft dropin to nasty conditions. So, doesn't directly answer everything, but I'm a true all mountain skier.

The last pair of skis I actually owned were Salomon Super Force 9s, PR8 (203cm). I've just always demo'd. From 98-2004 I've consistently skied on xscream's (185cm), just b/c its consistant cruising, in the bumps, and steeps.

I'm demoing this season with the intent to buy at some point the following:

Armada ARV
BD Kilowatt
Fischer Watea
Salomon Gun
Volkl Katana, Mantra
Salomon x-wing series (tornado, fury, etc.)

These seemed to be mostly all mountain skis from the reviews I've read.
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Postby jemezdave » Thu Dec 11, 2008 11:23 am

Hey all, I've been lurking for a while. I'm Dave, live in Jemez Springs, work at LANL, and ski Pajarito.

Welcome to NM, Mark (a little belated).

Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain
by Bruce Tremper
If you own one book, go for this one


I'd second that. I've also read Allen and Mike's really Cool Backcountry Ski Book and intend to look into some of the other offerings listed on this thread.

I'm hoping to get one put on in Santa Fe later this winter - keep an eye on that page above.

For the record I'd be really interested in an Avy 1 course offered at Santa Fe. I was hoping to catch Taos, but an early Xmas gift to myself of Atomic RT-80s pretty much negated that.

I think I met Scott last season at Pajarito. Skiing with Aaron and a bunch of ski patrol. I enjoy your trip reports on summit post. Very detailed. Awesome for the stoke.
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