In a recent post, I suggested that, in the last few years, I have seen more people getting out into the backcountry for skiing and boarding. I didn’t try to draw any conclusions about out-of-winter visitation, but it certainly seems to me that there is a new generation of backcountry skiers and boarders, and a growing number of snow shoers as well. These people are coming both from traditional resort users and also a more nature-enthusiast demographic as well.

I recently spotted some stats from the US based Outside magazine about avalanche risk, which seemed to underscore the trend that I see out on the slopes:

  • In the US, more people are getting out of resorts ‘than ever before’ (this includes skiers, boarders and snowshoers). The author of the article White Noise in the October 2014 issue of Outside, Christopher Solomon, suggest that ‘a tipping point has been reached, some say, and what was once a fringe subculture is now firmly mainstream’.
  • He puts this growth to a range of factors, including more resorts opening ‘sidecountry’ terrain, more focus on snowsports culture on getting out of the resort, more infrastructure – like guiding businesses – who can take inexperienced people out, and better equipment.
  • He notes that in the US, sales of backcountry gear has grown 85% over the past four winters.
  • He says that men in their 20s are the group that are making up the ‘largest demographic venturing into the backcountry’.

All of this is fairly consistent with what I see out on the slopes. And we have not come close to a peak as yet. I have lost track of the number of skiers, boarders, towies and other mountain enthusiasts I met this winter who have aspirations to get out of resort, but haven’t done it yet. The ‘collective consciousness’ of the snow sports community has shifted and more and more are looking beyond the tows. In light of this, Hotham resorts intention to investigate extending its lifted areas into prime sidecountry terrain seems doubly strange.

Most of the newer backcountry skiers and boarders I meet seem to be focused on getting out into steep terrain. But I also notice another crowd, who are enjoying ‘traditional’ XC skiing or snow shoeing. This group tends to be both younger and older than the ‘steeps freaks’.