Know before you go: This tagline has become a popular and powerful mantra for those who enter the back country. It is especially applicable for those areas that are accessed directly from the resort gates. In many of these areas, skiers and riders can simply ski right out the gate and head downhill – let gravity take over and go get that untracked powder! Recent events here at Bogus Basin in SW Idaho threaten to put a damper on the access that we have to the back country. Too many of these incidents are the result of people making uninformed decisions as they exit the gate. As we venture into the back country, we aren’t “leaving the rules behind”; we are in fact ascending to a much higher level of accountability and responsible action.
In this post, lets take a quick look at what some of the key pieces of knowledge you “need to know” before you exit the gates at the resort.
First and foremost, do you know the terrain? Have you or your partners spent any time in this area? Have you studied the terrain features? Do you know where the danger zones are? Do you know where the exit points are? If you don’t have positive responses to each of these questions, you have NO business venturing out of the gates. And just to be clear. Just because you or your buddies have skied the resort all of your life does NOT mean you know the terrain that lies outside the gates if you haven’t spent time outside the gates!
Weather (history and forecast)
What is the weather doing today? Is it “bluebird”,or a blizzard? What has the weather been over the past week? Do you now how much snow has fallen in the last 24 hours? Have you read the avalanche reports? Do you know what today’s avalanche danger is?
Has anyone in your group had any formal avalanche training? Does anyone have formal first-aid training.
Do you know and have the correct equipment with you? Does EVERYONE in the group have backpacks with a beacon, shovel and probe? This may seem like a no brainer, but does EVERYONE in the group have the proper equipment for uphill travel? Just because you can exit the gate skiing downhill and you think that you can ski down to some target, such as a road, does not mean that you will not need these items. Do you have food, water and layers to get you thru the nigh if required?
If you answer in the negative to even one of these questions, you and your group are in serious risk. If you answer in the negative to multiple questions, and you still want to exit that gate into the back country, then you are either stupid or you DON”T KNOW! So, DON”T GO.
One additional complicating factor in some ski resorts is the lack of a local avalanche report. This is the case for Bogus Basin here in southwest Idaho. So, what does that mean for those of us who venture outside the resort gates? It adds a layer of effort on our part. We need to collect the data points to develop our own knowledge. Recommendations include studying the West Central Mountains and the Sawtooth avalanche reports, keeping close tabs on the storm history for the season, dig snow pits for local knowledge, network and talk with other local back country skiers/riders.