Ski Cutting in the Backcountry: 9 Ways to Reduce the Obvious Risk

Ski Cutting in the Backcountry: 9 Ways to Reduce the Obvious Risk

Ski cutting is controversial. Some experts state don’t do it; it’s too risky! Yet a significant number of backcountry skiers choose to cut certain slopes before they ski them. A 2019 study gave us the first estimates of the risk from ski cutting, but only for avalanche practitioners. In this video, Bruce Jamieson reminds us that the risk to recreationalists will be higher than for trained professionals. We agree, and also stress the backcountry is not the ski area, where the snowpack may be modified by explosives and compaction, and where rescue resources are standing by. Jamieson is clear that these nine essentials are for those backcountry users who choose to ski cut for the purpose of slope-testing or controlling small slopes, and who are willing to accept the obvious risk.

The recommendations read like standard operating procedures and promote a healthy hazard assessment. Importantly, for those willing to accept the risk, Jamieson encourages learning from a very experienced mentor and selecting a combination of predictable conditions and terrain that present, in his words, “less surprise and less risk.”

Bruce Jamieson started ski touring in the mountains of Western Canada in 1976. He has since hauled toboggans and worked on the avalanche forecasting and control teams at two ski areas, got a graduate degree in avalanches studies, taught as a professor, and acted as a research chair. Now, when not sliding on snow or riding a two-wheeler on dirt trails, he works as an avalanche consultant and educator. You can keep up with his work on his site, His book, Backcountry Avalanche Awareness, is an essential introduction for recreational backcountry skiers.

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