Editor’s Note: Sidecountry skiing can be just as dangerous as backcountry skiing! The advice contained in this article is one expert skier’s opinion, and we don’t recommend going out of bounds until you’ve had the proper training and experience with guides.
Sidecountry (noun): Backcountry ski terrain, outside of the ski area boundary, accessed by an adjacent lift.
There’s lots of confusion surrounding this word in our mainstream ski media. Let’s clear things up a bit.
All sidecountry is backcountry, but not all backcountry is sidecountry. It must be lift-accessed. Cool?
No matter how many other folks and tracks you see on the other side of the rope, it’s still backcountry terrain out there. That means no avalanche control, no marked trails, and no rescue.
For those who are ready to safely explore, the recent surge in legal (gate) access from ski areas has been a blessing, and many of Liftopia’s ski resorts support such adventure.
Check out Jay Peak, Loveland, Grand Targhee, Canyons, Sugar Bowl, or Mt Baker for excellent sidecountry access.
So here’s where your responsibility comes in. In order to safely venture outside of the ropes, you have to:
A) Know what you’re doing and where you’re going, and
B) Have the appropriate gear to travel independently out there.
To begin, take a course: Avalanche awareness or AIARE 1. Read up and educate yourself. It’s really cool stuff and makes good party conversation.
Next, gear up. Here are five essentials.
- A trusted partner, a map, and a plan. Do you know how to get back to the ski area?
- Beacon, shovel, and probe. Necessities for traveling in avalanche terrain. We should choose terrain to avoid avalanches, but be prepared if things go awry. Consider a smaller capacity airbag pack like the Backcountry Access Float 22 if it’s in your budget.
- Touring bindings and climbing skins. You may not plan on any uphill travel, but a change in plans due to injury or conditions may require it.
- Small first aid and repair kits, food and water.
- Communication. Do you get cell phone reception out there or should you be carrying a personal locator?
Consider hiring a guide. Guaranteed they know the area better than you do and their job is to take you powder skiing and get you home alive. A ton can be learned on just one day out with a pro.
Sidecountry access opens up a lot of new terrain and opportunity to enjoy our ski resorts. Have a blast, be safe out there, and happy pow hunting!
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