Pre-Season Prep for Backcountry Skiing

Heavenly Mountain Resort opened yesterday and Kirkwood Mountain Resort opens tomorrow meaning that ski season in Tahoe is officially on! A few of us have already been out in the backcountry and were treated to deep powder and fresh tracks as early as October. Here’s a shot of my buddy Stu from last weekend.

Stu getting in deep near Chair 10 at Kirkwood

The same exact day, a fatal tragedy occurred at Alpine Meadows. A young women struck a rock under the snow which then propelled her headfirst into some rocks. It seems everything was done right in an attempt to save her, but she died a few days later. It saddens me greatly to lose another skier in the mountains, especially a female skier who was getting after it early, but I’m going to keep skiing and learning in dedication to her and everyone else we’ve lost.

Speaking of learning, I just completed my WFR refresher yesterday, which leads me to this post. Pre-season prep for backcountry skiing…

1. Wax your skis, tighten your binding screws, check your skins, get your binding repair kit together. I use 22 Designs binding repair kit, but in general, zip ties, duct tape (better yet, gorilla tape), bailing wire, and ski straps are good to have for this.
2. If it’s been 5 years, get your beacon tested by sending it back to the manufacturer. If it hasn’t, conduct a range test with your friends by getting a bunch of beacons and standing the same distance apart and checking the reading in both transmit and receive.
3. Do a few practice sessions with your beacon and probe. Check out the latest probing and shoveling techniques. There has been debate about the 3 hole per step technique and concentric circles technique.  The 3 hole per step method is seen as more methodical and easy to execute in high stress situations whereas the circles can be irregular. Whichever method  you choose, be sure to be able to quickly assemble your probe and to get it fully into the snow at a perpendicular angle.
4. Refill or make your BC 1st Aid Kit. This is as important as having your avalanche gear in order. In mine, I keep meds (child’s tylenol, advil, aleve, benadryll, prescription pain meds if you can get them from a travel doc), ace bandage, bandaids, sterile 4 x 4s (3), roll of gauze, 3 triangle bandages, mole skin, moist toilettes, med tape, steri-strips, Sepp, skintight or neuskin. Many of these things come in small packets and are pretty easy to carry.

Traditional mountaineering 1st Aid Kit ( Mine looks a little different.

5. Headlamp and extra batteries in each bag.
6. Practice building a sled with things you actually have in the BC. I carry 4 – 6 Voile ski straps and some cordelette (6mm x 4 m) on most day trips. Longer trips I might have a ski mountaineering rope (30m 8 mil rope) and some carabiners.

Remember to practice all year long. Bored at a party? Practice. Need something to do with your friend’s kids? Practice? Check and refill your 1st aid kit as necessary. is a good source for supplies. Stay safe and get some this season!

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Filed under Backcountry Skiing, Gear

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