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Top 5 ways to be prepared for a day of backcountry skiing

Backcountry skiing is one of the most exciting and nature immersing of all winter pursuits. As with many sports of its kind it is accompanied by risk, but fortunately for us some well directed preparation can go a long way in minimising those risks. Here are 5 ways to be prepared for a day of backcountry skiing. 1. Don’t skip breakfast First and foremost, eating a good breakfast and drinking enough fluids is key. Backcountry skiing can be both physically and mentally demanding, and we need a rested and well fuelled body in order to put our `best foot forward`. Not only are we much less likely to injure ourselves when are energised, but being well fed and watered will also have great value if our day becomes waylaid and we end up spending much longer in the mountains than anticipated. 2. Plan your route Another must for due consideration is our route; or at least our intended route as well as potential alternatives. It could easily be that the day evolves enough to change our plan A, so it is very important that know the area and what our options are. Having a topography map relevant to the area is always very useful in route finding even to those that know an area intimately. Once a plan – along with some alternatives – has been decided, communicating that information to someone who is not joining the excursion is really important. You would also want to include your contact details as well as your expected return time to them. In the event that encounter incident it gives potential rescuers a lot to go on when it comes to locating you. Resorts in some areas of the world will have route plans at the mountains that they ask you to fill out before going into the backcountry; be sure to fill these out as accurately as possible. 3. Check the forecast Knowing the weather conditions is paramount and as anyone who spends extensive time in   the mountains will know – are subject to change very quickly. It is therefore necessary to know the expected conditions for the day; cross referencing multiple forecasts can provide a good overview. It is important to ask yourself if the forecast is suitable for the intended route, or if you foresee it posing problems. Speaking to locals about the weather in the region is also time well spent. 4. Know the avalanche conditions Alongside the weather are the avalanche conditions. These change by the minute so be sure to have the most current information possible; daily avalanche bulletins are usually easily available online for their respective areas. If you can, speaking to locals about the snowpack and current conditions is of huge value. Industry professionals in particular will have a close eye on any concerning weak layers in the snowpack, as well as the anticipated risk level relative to specific areas. It is so important to have a comprehensive understanding of the avalanche risks before starting a day in the backcountry; even if the weather is cooperating beautifully, it is by no means an indicator that the snowpack is. 5. Pack effectively Lastly, make sure that you bring the right equipment with you. A beacon, shovel and probe are non-negotiable for anyone skiing anything other than what is within the resort boundaries. From 10 meters of lift-accessed side-country to deep into the back-county, everyone off-piste needs to wear this life-saving equipment; used to locate a person, pinpoint their exact position and then dig them out, you should also be very familiar and well-practised in their use. That is the same for anyone you choose to enter the backcountry with. Alongside that, water, food, a first aid kit, a flashlight or headlamp, a map of your intended route and an extra layer for insulation or padding are also great items to bring. While enjoying immeasurable fun and adventure in the backcountry is a wonderful thing, our safety and that of others needs to always be at the forefront of our thinking. If you ever doubt your ability, knowledge, experience or skills for skiing outside of the resort – hire a professional guide as your life is worth every penny. Nadine Robb is Owner and Instructor at Hakuba Ski Concierge. Hakuba Ski Concierge is a boutique ski school in Hakuba, Japan. If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

Nadine Robb

Nadine Robb is Owner and Instructor at Hakuba Ski Concierge. Hakuba Ski Concierge is a boutique ski school specialising in private ski lessons, snowboard lessons and resort guiding services. The first of it`s kind in Hakuba, Japan – guests have the freedom to manage their time how they see fit, and have a choice of ski resorts, onsens and local lunch spots to ensure that they get the very most out of Hakuba. Originally from the UK, Nadine has been in Japan for 10 years now, with time spent in Austria and Canada previously. Author to the children`s book `Joey`s First Ski Lesson`, Nadine is also a professional Ski and Snowboard Instructor, Wilderness First Responder and Swift Water Rescue Technician and mother of two.

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  1. And may I add a sixth preparation? Undertake some physical training. Our sedentary lifestyles take a much bigger toll on our fitness than we are prepared to admit. There are too many people who back country ski just once a year. They do nothing for a year, except age and put on 5 kg, then attempt the same routes as last year. The fitter you are the more you will enjoy the experience and the more adventurous routes you will be able to tackle.

    1. Thank you for your comment Stephen, I do agree with you. It is definitely true that the better shape we are in, the lesser the chance of injury. It is not always easy to maintain a healthy fitness level, especially in urban living, but the more we put into it pre-skiing, the better the outcome.

    2. A lot of people firstly don’t realise how unfit they are and also that they would get a lot more out of life if they were fit enough to enjoy it. Every year I go skiing and a lot of people are struggling to get back on the slopes for the second day. If they arrived better prepared they would probably avoid a lot of the minor injuries that spoil their enjoyment and sometimes if they weren’t as tired on the snow they might avoid some of the holiday ending injuries.

    3. Really well said Fred. Unfortunately as an instructor and resort guide I do see a lot of this. Falls and mishaps can end up causing far more trauma when our bodies are unprepared then if we were in better shape. Unsurprisingly the majority of accidents occur at the end of the day, when we are physically fatigued but push ourselves to continue. In these situations we lack the energy to apply correct technique and the ability to recover from moments of imbalance. We then fall back into old habits and can be caught out by something that in the morning we would have avoided. Physical fitness is indeed so important for all areas of snow sports.

  2. Although I’ve never been back country skiing it sort of appeals. Then I read about the shovel, beacon and probe. How big are these things? I don’t want to be taking a shed load of stuff with me.

    1. Hi Simon, thank you for your comment. Fortunately they are by no means bulky or heavy and most importantly completely essential when we venture from the resort. The beacon is about the size of a cell phone, and would be worn under your outer jacket and midlayer. Once on you would not necessarily notice it at all. The probe is also compact and lightweight, and the handle of the shovel can be detached to make it fit easily into a backpack.

  3. Any advice that begins with the line “Don’t skip breakfast” is always going to grab my attention.

    I always follow that old saying, “Breakfast like a King, lunch like a lord and dine like a pauper.” Problem is that I’ve usually forgotten all about it by dinner time.

    There are very few activities in life that don’t go better after a hearty breakfast.

  4. Preparing for backcountry skiing is essential in order for you to have a smooth and exciting ride down the slopes. And these tips aren’t just for beginners, it’s a reminder to those who’ve skied before. Eating a good hearty breakfast can help keep you going because you’d be needing a source of energy for the strenuous activity. Also, planning your route and knowing the environment is also important to maximize your safety.

    1. Well said H Lindsey; being we fuelled at any level and any for any sport is so essential. Interestingly for activities such as backcountry skiing or snowboarding it can easily be overlooked in the excitement and anticipation of it all!

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