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backcountry ski planning and safety with mountain madness

Backcountry Ski Touring — Making a Plan

MM ski guide Stephen Heath gives some basic, but impor­tant advice on plan­ning your back­coun­try adventure

Get­ting to places like this doesn’t just hap­pen. It takes some work, phys­i­cal work of haul­ing your­self up the moun­tain. But even before that you have to put in the work of doing your homework.

It’s the qui­et time at home, in a back­coun­try hut, or on the dri­ve to your des­ti­na­tion. It’s a nec­es­sary pre-tour rou­tine, before you even put your gear on, when you set your­self up to make good deci­sions before you’re out in it.

Backcountry Fundamentals 5
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My goal at this time is to pre-bias myself to make good choic­es for that day’s con­di­tions. If I don’t do this before­hand and I’m faced with a beau­ti­ful line with blow­er pow then I’m prob­a­bly going to build a nar­ra­tive that allows me to ski that line because pow­der is so com­pelling and I WANT TO GO TO THERE.

This is why we pre-bias our­selves by rul­ing out ter­rain based on the day’s con­di­tions before we’re star­ing at it long­ing­ly. It’s often a dif­fi­cult deci­sion, one that pal­ces good judge­ment over desire. The ter­rain we choose then to inter­act with is one of the few things we have com­plete con­trol over and it’s the pri­ma­ry way we can mit­i­gate our expo­sure to avalanches.

cascades backcountry skiing powder with mountain madness
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Nice Run Tino

Your local avalanche cen­ter has all the infor­ma­tion you need to make these ter­rain choic­es for the day. Choos­ing where you’re going to go but also, and per­haps more impor­tant­ly, where you’re not going to go.

Put in the time to dig into the avy fore­cast for your zone, not just read­ing the pri­ma­ry prob­lems, but also the fore­cast dis­cus­sion and any obser­va­tions that were submitted.

Set your­self up for suc­cess, have a plan and be obser­vant of what’s hap­pen­ing out there.