As you might have read in our Snowboarding History section, the first snowboarders were not allowed to go on piste. So the entire sport actually started off piste and now-a-days that is still the way that many people enjoy snowboarding. Backcountry Snowboarding is for more advanced Snowboarders and you will need to have a lot more knowledge and other skills before you leave the safe environment that snow resorts create. This section introduces you to Off Piste and Backcountry Snowboarding.
If you learned to Snowboard on well groomed pistes in nice snow resorts then you are in for a surprise when you go off piste.
Snow & Surface Conditions
You will need a high skill level on all kinds of surface. From the hardest Ice to the softest Powder, you will need to be able to maintain total control of your board.
In snow resorts you might have been confronted with the occasional tree along the piste. Off piste you will need sufficient board control to avoid crashes with trees, boulders, falls off cliffs or into crevasses.
Mountain & Rescue Skills
Avalanche Awareness, First Aid and basic Mountaineering skills are essential for backcountry snowboarding. Make sure to learn them either through books or preferably through licensed instructors.
Make sure you are able to assess possible dangerous situations and deal with them wisely. Hundreds of people injure themselves each year Backcountry and most of the accidents could have been avoided. It’s about being focused; identifying hazardous situations and taking evasive action.
Gear & Preparations
As explained above you will need to increase your knowledge and skills before you can take off into the wild. Check the following:
Your Snowboard - If you are going to cruise through soft and deep powder you might want to take a larger board and adjust your stance by moving your bindings slightly to the tail of the board. By having a larger board and putting more weight on the tail side of the board, it will be easier for you to keep your board floating above the powder instead of digging itself in. You do not want to get stuck in chest deep powder in the backcountry! If you are a real Backcountry enthusiast then you could consider getting a special Swallowtail backcountry board.
Gear & Supplies
Pack the following basics:
First Aid Kit
Food & Water
Detailed Map of the area
A compass or GPS
Avalanche Transceivers – N.B. ensure you have practiced using the receiver to get familiar with the device. Do not wait until someone’s life depends on it.
Mobile Phone - N.B. this should never be switched on until required as it will interfere with avalanche transceiver frequencies.
Plus, depending on the route you’re taking and the terrain you will encounter:
Belays and Harnasses
Getting into it...
There is no simple way to learn Backcountry Snowboarding. You will need to push your own limits until you are confident enough to really go for it. The following list could be a good road map to set you up for backcountry snowboarding:
Make sure that your standard Snowboarding techniques are well developed and you possess the skills described above.
Once you are ready for it, give small off-piste runs a try in your snow resort. Make runs through the trees and practice your last moment turning skills. Do not make these runs alone, take a friend who can help you in the worst case.
Work on your basic Mountain & Survival Skills & Knowledge as described above.
Try the unmarked/un-groomed backcountry routes that some larger ski resorts offer. Make sure to plan these runs ahead and know the route you are going to take. Try making them with someone who knows the area and is more experienced. Take the backcountry gear with you as described above.
Once you are comfortable with navigating backcountry routes you can really start planning your own routes. From this point on the sky is the limit! You could hike/climb up and board down, book runs with snowcat transport or head for the skies with a helicopter. At this moment Heli-Boarding is pretty much the limit when it comes to Backcountry Snowboarding...