Intermediate Backcountry Ski Course - Developing Proficiency
This course is about developing your skill at moving efficiently throughout a backcountry ski tour. If you have a solid route plan, understand transitions, and are able to begin to put together a properly laid skin track you can move through the terrain quickly without simply relying on an extreme level of fitness.
Great backcountry skiers make touring look easy. They begin by selecting a route that matches the skill level of the group with the current snow conditions and then develop a route plan. The route plan provides a timeline, makes it easier to navigate, and gives them a chance to pre-rehearse their route choice. Once in the field their pack is light, yet full of all the essential gear and they have developed systems for all the various transitions that occur during a tour. As they always know what the next step in the process is there is no need to hurry. Everything moves smoothly, which adds speed without feeling rushed, and makes it easier to accomplish bigger tours.
Consider our intermediate touring course to be a finishing school where we take all the parts of our AIARE Level 1 and Intro to Alpine Touring Courses and refine them to the point where they all elegantly hang together.
We Review these AIARE L1 Skills
- Checking the avalanche bulletin & weather forecast
- Gathering telemetry data and conditions reports
- Developing route plans and time management plans
- Terrain selection matched to group and snow conditions
- Developing suitable alternate objectives
- Contents of a lightweight backcountry repair kit
- Communications gear
- Emergency shelters, tarps, and rescue sleds
- Conducting quick, yet through beacon checks at the trailhead
We refine these Intro to Alpine Touring skills
- Setting an appropriately angled skin track
- Shaping corners and placing them in the best spots
- Traditional kick turns vs A-V-A turns
- The transition from skiing to skinning
- The transition from skinning to skiing
- Holding your poles properly on the uphill
- Dressing Properly
We introduce these new skills
- Track setting around micro terrain features such as trees & gullies
- Track setting around marco features such as prominent ridges
- When it is faster to boot than to struggle in steep track
- How to carry your skis on your pack if in a boot pack
- Finding time to eat and drink
- Skiing in variable conditions
What will you get from this course?In a nutshell, the ability to select and conduct a nice day of ski touring in the mountains. These skills will add to your comfort level on a longer tour such as the Haute Route, and will increase your comfort level when conducting your own tours.
Sample Itinerary - Intermediate Backcountry Skiing8:00 am:
Arrive at Stevens Pass and meet in the lodge at Stevens Pass Ski Area.
This is our planning session and will touch on all of the information that the guide considers while developing a tour plan for the day. We will review the avalanche bulletin & weather forecast and the guide will share their route plan.
9:00 am - 9:30 am:
Moving from Stevens to tour start if not near Stevens Pass, or riding the chair if near Stevens.
9:30 am - 9:45 am:
Trailhead routine review: Beacon tests, clothing selection & communications selection
9:45 am - 2:30 pm:
During the tour we will work with people to establish a pace that is consistent and appropriate for the group and snow conditions. Generally we are looking to make around 1000 feet per hour, which is easy if the track is set properly. Each member has a chance to work on track setting, and making corners. We will assess snow along the way and your guide will keep you aware of what is going through his or her mind as they evaluate the conditions. We will also cover considerations such as when to spread out, when to stay close together, and how to keep tabs on the entire group. Throughout the tour the group will revisit the route plan & keep track of position on the map. At times we will also discuss use of a GPS, altimeter, and compass as needed.
2:30 pm - 3:00 pm:
Once at the top of our tour we will prep for the downhill and talk about strategies for downhill skiing, including spacing, safe spots, ski leg length, and ski techniques for skiing downhill in a variety of ski conditions.
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm:
Descent to trailhead. This will be managed in a controlled fashion and will give you basic technique for keeping track of everyone with an eye to the worst case scenario while still being able to enjoy downhill skiing.
4:00 pm - 4:30pm:
Once back at the car we will review the day and offer feedback for areas to work on, skills to develop, and additional training that will allow you to continue to progress as a backcountry skier. We may do this inside if the weather does not allow for a good debrief outside.
Course PrerequisitesYou should be familiar with the materials covered in an AIARE Level 1 Avalanche Course and should know how to use a beacon, shovel, and probe. You should have previously practiced the skills taught in our Introduction to Ski Touring Course. In order to enjoy backcountry skiing you need to have developed solid ski skills at a ski area. Most participants can comfortably ski black diamond terrain in the ski area. Snow conditions in the backcountry are quite variable. You should be able to ski black diamond terrain in a variety of conditions including ice, powder, deep snow, wet snow, and some of the easier crusts. Powder often dominates the backcountry, but short forays onto wind or sun affected slopes can present almost any type of snow. This is not a suitable course to learn to ski on and it is not an avalanche course.
Suggested Equipment:You will need ski touring skis, skins, bindings, and boots for this course. Our full equipment list can be found on our AT Skiing Equipment List. Most participants will already own their own backcountry ski setup. If you do not already own this gear Leavenworth Mountain Sports, has a demo program where you can rent and demo alpine touring skis, boots, and bindings. We also have a limited supply of rental skis and skins here at the Northwest Mountain School. Our guides are all familiar with the different skis, boots, and bindings currently on the market and will either be familiar with the gear you bring or can make suggestions for appropriate equipment for your ski ability, size, and interest if you are still planning a purchase.
Quick and Easy Registration Process:
- Space is first-come, first serve.
- A 25% deposit secures your spot
- Final balance due 60 days before your course
- Applications less than 60 days prior require full payment
- Pre-trip information sent when registration and payment are received
- Step 1: Complete the online registration
- Step 2: Make your deposit or full payment here: Online Payment