Last winter was pretty ‘ordinary’ in terms of the snow pack, and many people were unable to get into the mountains because of lock down. However, in the places where outdoor adventure was allowed, it was clear that there was a boom in visitation to side country (areas in or near ski resorts) and backcountry (more remote areas).
It has been the same this winter in North America, with some significant results. The New York Times reports:
‘In the throes of a pandemic that has made the indoors inherently dangerous, tens of thousands more Americans than usual have flocked outdoors, fleeing crowded cities for national parks and the public lands around them. But as these hordes of inexperienced adventurers explore the treacherous terrain of the backcountry, many inevitably call for help. It has strained the patchwork, volunteer-based search-and-rescue system in America’s West’.
This winter we have to expect lots of new and inexperienced people getting out of resort and into the higher peaks.
This will bring lots of impacts to our precious high country – especially around human waste (check here for our Let’s talk about poo guide to managing human waste in the backcountry). It also brings risks to inexperienced skiers and riders, and others in the mountains who may need to assist people and groups in difficulty, and put strain on police and volunteer search and rescue groups like Alpine Search and Rescue and the SES.
Here are some ideas on getting skills if you’re planning to head out into higher mountain environments this winter.
Updated June 12. Please send details on your events, business and websites to me for inclusion here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Check the conditions
The key thing is to develop an understanding of conditions in the backcountry – both weather and snow. Avalanches do occur here, and ice is a regular threat on many slopes. Check the specialist weather sites such as the Bureau of Meteorology alpine weather page. There are any number of apps that are useful to have on your phone when you’re out, such as Windy. And if you be leaving from, or near, a ski resort check their conditions reports (some, such as Mt Hotham, have backcountry advisories as well as general details on conditions in resort).
The key source for conditions in the mountains that I recommend are the condition advisory reports put together by Mountain Safety Collective (MSC). These cover the three key zones of alpine terrain on the mainland. Info and daily reports can be found here once the snow starts to fall.
Find the community
There are specialist groups for all backcountry interests on facebook, including split boarding, telemark skiing and alpine touring. Just do a search on facebook for your specific backcountry interest.
Most of these forums can be used to ask questions and seek guidance and, potentially, find touring buddies.
A great place to meet other BC fans will be at the Victorian Backcountry Festival, which will happen over three days in early September at Mt Hotham in Victoria.
Learn the skills
There are a growing number of companies that provide guided tours and training in backcountry skills.
Here are the main ones I am aware of.
Adventure Guides Australia. Based at Mt Buffalo and offering a range of climbing and backcountry trips. Website here.
Alpine Access Australia. Provides AST Avalanche Skills Training and Backcountry Ski, and Snowboard Tours in NSW and Victoria. Website here.
Avalanche Training Australia provides 2 day avalanche awareness and 4 day avalanche avoidance courses, both in Victoria (Falls Creek) and NSW Main Range (out of Thredbo). Further details: Ross McSwiney, Mob: +61-407-412-190
LetsSplit. Splitboard tours in VIC and NSW. Website here.
Mountain Safety Collective (MSC) usually offers the SlaySafe training trip. Check their website for details (2021 details not yet posted).
Mount Buffalo Ski School. MBSS offers advertised and by arrangement cross country ski lessons and tours, snowshoe tours and snow hikes. Intermediate and Advanced backcountry ski tours/tuition and supervised snow camping activities can be arranged for private groups. You can find their website here.
Snowlife Tours is offering a Women’s Mountain Retreat at Perisher resort in NSW in mid July. Full details here.
Snow Safety Australia. Tours and winter safety training in the Snowy Mountains. Website here.
Snowy Mountains Collective & Rhythm Snowboard Shop. Will be doing introduction back country tours, splitboard introduction tours, avalanche courses, rover board tours and various other tours that are being added to the website weekly. They have a wide range of hire gear available through the Cooma store Rhythm SnowSports. All tours are on the website: snowymountainscollective.com.au
Discover trails less travelled cross country (XC) skiing and snowshoeing, TH specialise in the journey, immersion in nature, understanding the alpine environment and exploring at a human pace. Lessons and tours at Hotham and Dinner Plain.
Based at Mt Hotham. Website here.
Vic Alps Backcountry. Ski and splitboard touring, based at Mt Hotham. Facebook page here.
Wilderness Sports in Jindabyne offers all sorts of backcountry tours, including telemark and AT and snowshoeing, plus group and private lessons. Website here.
PLEASE NOTE. Remember to do the research. If you are thinking to do a course or go on a tour, its always worth doing some extra research and cross reference people’s experience of going out with that specific business.
Snowdog Transport. Hamish MacPhee runs Snow Dog Transport (snowdog.com.au 0491723650) which can transfer skiers from Bright to Razorback as well as all the usual passenger services (airport pickup, Bright/Harrietville/Mt Beauty to Resorts). Website here.
Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT) Angels. This is a Facebook group of people who are willing to provide logistical support to backcountry adventures attempting sections of the AAWT. Facebook group here.
More details on outlets will be added as I get details.
Snow Monkey. Snow Monkey at Hotham has BC gear including Spiltboards, BC ski with frame bindings, BC skis with tech bindings, tech boots for hire, and all the packs, shovel probes and beacons. Located at 3 Davenport Drv, Mt Hotham. Ph: 0357593663 City store (Collingwood): 03 94170170. Email: email@example.com
Rhythm Snowboard Shop. Rhythm has a wide range of hire gear available through the Cooma store Rhythm SnowSports. snowymountainscollective.com.au
Wilderness Sports in Jindabyne offers all sorts of backcountry gear hire, including telemark and AT and snowshoes. Website here.
Details on winter backcountry related events coming soon.
Please feel free to send your events to: firstname.lastname@example.org