Backcountry skiing will be even more popular this season—here’s what you need to know.
With concerns over social distancing this winter, it’s the optimal time to try your hand at backcountry skiing. Luckily for Aspenites and those visiting the Roaring Fork Valley, we have access to great backcountry terrain right in our backyard.
Backcountry skiing, also known as off-piste, alpine touring or out-of-area, is taking turns in unmarked or unpatrolled areas usually outside a ski resort’s boundaries. This long staple of winter recreation offers a more intense cardio workout with the reward of downhill skiing, fewer people and a greater chance of finding fresh powder. And in Aspen, skiers will find beginner to expert terrain to explore.
Skiing beyond the ropes of a mountain resort means venturing into uncontrolled mountain terrain. So, investing in specific equipment, snow safety education and self-awareness are all vital to the success of any backcountry skiing experience.
Ski touring gear essentials include an avalanche beacon, probe, shovel, adhesive ski "skins," skis with the appropriate bindings, backcountry ski boots and poles. The "skins" allow for skiers to move uphill without sliding down. Once reaching the top of ascent, skins
are peeled off the underside of the skis and skiers can descend without resistance.
Much of the gear brought along is for safety precautions. Unmonitored and uncontrolled ski areas, especially powder fields, are prone to avalanche risk, making it vital for skiers to have the right safety gear and know how to use it. For those without backcountry experience or avalanche training, it’s highly recommended to go with a professional guide—and there are plenty in Aspen.
The top ski-touring guides in the Roaring Fork Valley offer gear for rent, skills and training courses, including avalanche safety courses, and a variety of guided trips and expeditions.
Daily backcountry touring trips as well as hut trips throughout the Elk Mountains can all be scheduled through guides within the valley. Hut trips offer a unique and memorable experience where skiers trek to a hut, enjoy a relaxing night by the fire and find untracked powder right outside the hut. The 10th Mountain, Friends and Braun Hut Systems are all accessible from Aspen.
For those with backcountry experience and avalanche training, there are numerous routes from beginner to expert level to explore in and around Aspen. Head to Ute Mountaineer in downtown Aspen for gear rentals and touring routes. Make the trek to the backcountry this winter and begin your love of alpine touring. You won’t be disappointed.
Cripple Creek Backcountry, 970.510.0450
Photography by: Courtesy of Aspen Snowmass