Backcountry Safety Tips from the Pros

We’ve rolled the clocks forward, the weather is warming, the snow pack is thick (and changing) and mountain lovers are starting to eye up bigger, more complex terrain. Spring skiing is upon us, and it’s a perfect time (it’s always a perfect time) to brush up and practice your backcountry safety skills.

While Avalanche Canada offers some great tips and tools to help you make the right decisions, we decided to connect with the pros at G3 Genuine Guide Gear to get some insider tips on how they analyze terrain and snowpack, and make smart decisions in the backcountry.

 

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James McSkimming, Ski Patrol on Whistler Blackcomb
“Extreme is predictable; definite. The other extreme, low, is also fairly simple. It’s when these opposites moderate with each other that one must be considerably more cautious, for that’s when the danger is most high. Complacency kills.”

 

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Photo: Jamie Bond

Reuben Krabbe, Photographer
Reuben shares a favourite line his friend Brian Coles first fed him: “I like to make decisions in the mountains as if I were ski touring naked, it helps me find the right balance of risk.”

“When I look back on the first years I spent in the backcountry,” he continues “I now realize that I owe my safety more to the people who surrounded me, than the knowledge I could quickly glean from an avalanche course. Choosing to travel with conservative risk takers, with a wealth of experience, who were willing to answer questions, has been key to my ongoing learning of snow science.”

 

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Melanie Bernier, Canadian Ski Mountaineering Team
“My mantra in the backcountry has always been ‘Ski to ski another day’. No matter the slope, conditions, group, I personally want to enjoy this amazing sport for the rest of my life. Decision making and change in objective is not a sign of weakness and we often learn more from not meeting the objective than pushing through.”

“Decision making and change in objective is not a sign of weakness and we often learn more from not meeting the objective than pushing through.”

Joe Stock, IFMGA/AMGA, Stock Alpine
“Cranking 10 hours for a remote chute is easy. Turning around because of unstable snow is the hard part, but turning around is what will keep you alive. Look for reasons to turn around.”

 

Spring in South Central Alaska. Tucker Chenoweth climbing Mount Rumble, Western Chugach Mountains. . Photo: Joe Stock.
Spring in South Central Alaska. Tucker Chenoweth climbing Mount Rumble, Western Chugach Mountains. . Photo: Joe Stock.

Chad Sayers, Freeskier
“Always move through the mountains with people you trust and can communicate well with. Stay tuned to your intuition which helps to make solid mindful decisions and keeps the safety factor at a ‘high’. You can have all the right gear in your pack but its important to know how to use it!”

 

Kari Medig
Photo: Kari Medig

Jesse Wilfley, Splitboarder
“When doing snowpack evaluation after large snowfall events, it is important to dig down to the beginning of the new snow, the old snow/new snow interface. In the picture this was five feet below the new snow surface. At this interface we found a very unstable snowpack with a Q-1 shear which we would have missed had we not dug deeper. Many problems can occur with a deep instability such as this…”

 

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Andy Traslin, Freeskier
“When skiing steep powder, keep an eye on your sluff and make the first ski cut count. Don’t just ski into your line. And of course don’t ski into your sluff. Know your escape route, where you can b-line the hell outta there if it sluffs above you. If you do get hit by your sluff brace yourself and once again look for an escape line.”

“Know your escape route, where you can b-line the hell outta there if it sluffs above you. If you do get hit by your sluff brace yourself and once again look for an escape line.”

Mike Traslin, Freeskier
“To Go or Not Go. Be aware of your Fun Meter. Never stop using your brain, even when the conditions are all-time. The top half of this backyard chute skied great. Midway down this steep ski line is the crux, and that is right where conditions started to change from boot top stable powder to double the amount of snow (wind slab) over storm snow. There was boot penetration up to my brothers waist, and he is 6’2”.

“We had a heated discussion (hockey brother style). We finally decided it was a no-go and climbed back out. When I was a teenager and in my early 20s it was much easier to just go (ignorance is bliss, right?) but I’m glad we are making these decisions.

“Have fun out there, but never shut off your brain. The mountain does not know how cool you think you are.”

 

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