Preparing for Winter: What Skills Are You Lacking?
Mastering the backcountry, if that’s even attainable, requires decades of dedication. It is a lifelong journey. If we improve from day to day, season to season, then over the years we’re headed the right direction.
Let’s consider how we prepare for next season. If you’re new to the backcountry, start to get oriented with online learning, some general books like “Backcountry Awareness,” start to get oriented with online learning (here for Americans and here for Canadians), and register for an avalanche course (do it quickly; they’re filling it up).
If you’re more experienced, then dive into a comprehensive review of your skillset. Review your transceiver skills, up your physical training, augment your run atlases, and revisit your successes and near misses from last year. From season to season, we should have an idea of what we’re doing really well and what we need to do to improve.
Questions you need to ask yourself include: What’s your plan? How, specifically, do you plan to address your shortcomings from last year? If you know what you need to address, you’re headed the right direction. Your teammates can probably give you with some good ideas. Weak beacon-searching skills? Sketchy orienteering? Confused about near-surface faceting? Great, get your crew together and devise a list of topics on which to focus. If it’s expert terrain recognition, awesome, and if it’s your first season out, then a general “Backcountry 101” approach will work, too.
And if you and your buddies don’t know what you don’t know, how do you identify those weaknesses? Hire an experienced guide who is willing to teach you. Read our article, “Why This is the Year To Hire a Guide,” for recommendations.
Rob Coppolillo writes and guides from his home base of Chamonix, France. He grew up in the sketchy snowpack of the Colorado Rockies, studied environmental conservation at CU Boulder, and is the author of three books, including “The Ski Guide Manual.” He and his wife, Rebecca, have twin boys, Dominic and Luca, who are 10.