Route Guide - iPhone / Android - Partners - Forum - Photos - Deals - What's New - School of Rock
Login with Facebook
 ADVANCED
Getting Started on CO backcountry skiing
View Latest Posts in This Forum or All Forums
   Page 1 of 1.  
Follow replies to this topic? Notify me at the top of web site.
1

Email me.
 
By Brian O'Connell
From Denver, CO
Dec 24, 2008
Me!

Hi All,

I'm planning on moving to CO real soon and am hoping to get into backcountry skiing. I've never done it before really and was wondering if any of you might have some advice on getting started.

At this point I don't know what I don't know. So I'd like to know:

-What gear should I definitely have? From ski's to safety etc.?
-Where are some of the better places within 3 hours of Denver/Boulder to check out?
-What is the best way to get involved? are there clubs, use a guide, network on MP?

Any advice would be great!

Thanks,
Brian


FLAG
By George Bell
From Boulder, CO
Dec 24, 2008
Hip trouble ...

Backcountry skiing is actually a pretty broad category, from radical folks skiing the 14ers and steep chutes to mellow tours in flat terrain. If you are new to the sport, I'd suggest you try the mellow stuff before heading out on the steep terrain, although different equipment is needed. In general, you can go with lighter weight gear if you are touring.

The backcountry hut systems in Colorado are a lot of fun but rather expensive, not to mention booked solid on weekends. Good places to do easy ski touring are near Vail Pass or Rabbit Ears Pass (on the way to Steamboat Springs). The Jones Pass area before Berthod Pass is also a popular spot which is closer to Denver.

If you plan on venturing above treeline, or onto terrain steeper than even 20 degrees, taking an avalanche course is advisable. In fact this is probably a good idea for any backcountry skier to know what kinds of terrain to avoid or be careful of.


FLAG
By darin
Dec 24, 2008

There are many fantastic backcountry skiing opportunities within 3 hours of Denver. Roadside 'resorts' like berthoud pass and loveland pass are about an hour's drive from denver. Shady and steep chutes in RMNP can be skiied well into late spring and summer.

As for equipment here is a very abbreviated and vague list of what some would say will need:

- something to slide down on (skis, board, etc)
- flotation (not always required, but often may include snowshoes, AT or Tele skis and skins, or splitboard and skins, etc)
- poles (not always required, but a nice luxury)
- shovel, probe, beacon
- clothing

What is probably most important though is that you know how to use this stuff. Take an avalanche course or spend a lot of time with anybody who has a lot grey in their beard. MP and other websites are a good start for meeting others. Email me anytime, we are always looking for another partner to split the cost of gas.

Here are few other things to check out on the web.
www.wildsnow.com
www.powderbuzz.com


FLAG
By chris berdoulay
Dec 24, 2008

Brian,

Start with at least an avalanche awareness class or even better an avalanche 1 class. These are offered everywhere throughout Colorado. Some ski patrols offer free avie awareness classes for the general public. Beaver Creek Ski Patrol usually offers one or two, typically in december/january/february. There are many guide services which offer avie classes, I've taken one from Colorado Mountain School which was well run. I live in Eagle-Vail, and here Apex Mountain School and Colorado Mountain College offer avie 1 and 2. Find yourself some responsible/knowledgable friends to take you out. Consult the Colorado Avalanche Information Center(CAIC) before you go out. The snow in Colorado is fantastic, but can be quite dangerous for many reasons. There have been three skier deaths this month already. It's a great place to learn snowpack assessment skills. Start slow and play it safe and you'll have a great experience!

Chris Berdoulay


FLAG
By Jason Kaplan
From Glenwood ,Co
Dec 24, 2008
avitar pic <br />

George is right, backcountry skiing is a very broad term. the tools are virtually the same no matter what venue you are looking to get into though.

You won't see me with out a beacon, shovel, probe, or avalung. Mandatory!

A fat/long ride will prove helpful, snowshoes work well if your on a board for going up, or a split is even better if you got the cash.

Sometimes I like to carry a short stretch of rope and some webbing for checking conditions or better yet actually getting into my line.

Almost always have 1-2 cameras on hand, radios are nice sometimes not necessary by anymeans unless you like photo whoring.

If your a gummbie a map, compass, and or gps would be pretty useful. people die getting lost out in the woods in the winter.

loveland pass is great for newbies, as long as you have common sense you can't really get in trouble there. Rode there for years as a kid with no avy gear. Not advisable, but seriously if you drive up through there with a beacon in search mode I bet you'll be shocked to the amount of people that don't have gear.

Berthoud is way better IMO but I like really nasty terrain, you can get much rowdier here then loveland I think. With a broad spectrum of risk and commitment level abound. You probly shouldn't start here but maybe if loveland seems too mellow. You can find just about anything you could want here.

St. Marys is also a pretty good option, with mellow and big terrain abound. Lots of oppertunity to get off the beaten path here, we walked 4 miles one way last saturday up into the fall river resevoir basin. not a soul around. in the spring you can access bigger lines on alot of peaks around fall river road if you know how to use a map.
Witter, Mt Eva, Parry peak, Bancroft, James peak.

I've never been but I hear good things about rollins and cameron pass. I hear jones pass and butler gulch are popular amoung the touring crowd and slednecks. We took a sled back there once and I wasn't really all that impressed, but you can access some bigger peaks from there I think like pernassus. I suppose it's good for those that like mellower terrain.

Dry gulch is a popular touring spot aswell but be careful with this spot as it can be a killer if your not familiar with the area you can put yourself in alot of danger without realizing it. Plus it loads up really uniquely. There are 2 great peaks that can be accessed from here, in spring. Hagar mtn. and "the citidel" (snoopy on his dog house as seen from loveland, local reference)

Mayflower gulch can be fun, lots of good peaks around there that are sick in the spring when things get more predictable avy wise. there is some mellow skiing to be found too, depending on what your looking for, the views are increadible though no matter what your out for.

I suggest avy 1 and 2 for sure, with colorado's constant sketchy mid winter snowpack. Knowing how to pick acceptable terrain and practicing safe travel is half the battle. For instance I have had days that were in the red zone avy wise and still had a blast on some exciting terrain. It's all about picking something with lower consequences if everything goes wrong. short safe runs with safe run outs with no rocks or trees to be dragged through. Pillow's are often good on days like this is you know where to find them in safe zones, or short headwall type stuff(probly less then 500 vert).

Oh and just a bit of a tease, Berthoud was really good yesterday off the beaten path:




Also the Teton Gravity Research forum is kinda fun but more often then not a junk show. I post there from time to time, although I gorw less fond all the time. Although I'm the lunatic fringe that get's heckled to no end. People there just talk too much and don't step up nearly enough per capita. Granted I'm generalizing, there are for sure some super cool folks on there that actually do get it done. but far too few for the actual amount of traffic the place sees.

If your bored check out some of my trip reports from the last 2 years(some are pretty wild):

www.tetongravity.com/forums/showthread.php?t=84242

www.tetongravity.com/forums/showthread.php?t=86908

www.tetongravity.com/forums/showthread.php?t=125745

www.tetongravity.com/forums/showthread.php?t=124539

www.tetongravity.com/forums/showthread.php?t=120746

www.tetongravity.com/forums/showthread.php?t=113356

www.tetongravity.com/forums/showthread.php?t=112312

www.tetongravity.com/forums/showthread.php?t=108924

www.tetongravity.com/forums/showthread.php?t=108688

www.tetongravity.com/forums/showthread.php?t=102892

www.tetongravity.com/forums/showthread.php?t=85768


FLAG
By Brian O'Connell
From Denver, CO
Dec 24, 2008
Me!

Wow, thanks everyone. I'm glad I asked, because I really wouldn't have known to take a class. I think I'll definitely be doing that! Anyhow, not sure on the exact date when I'll be back out to CO but it should realistically only be a month or so. For those of you who offered to get out there with me, I'm definitely interested and will be in touch.

I like the "grey in their beard comment too." I'd love an experienced backcountry mentor.

Thanks again!
Brian


FLAG
By Sergio P
From Idaho Springs, CO
Dec 24, 2008
World Champion NY Giants logo

I agree with almost all of the above comments. However, I view an avalung and probe as somewhat optional.

An avalung is nice, but most deaths in avalanches are from trauma. Still, it can't hurt to wear one.

I think probing is what you do when you are looking for a dead body. If someone is caught in an avalanche you have about 5 minuets before they suffocate. I think it is best to be really skilled with your beacon, get supper close to the best signal and then dig like a mother fucker. However, it doesn't hurt to carry a probe just in case it is a really bad situation.

Again, I'm not against probes or avalungs. However, if you are looking to getting into the sport from scratch your investment for skies, skins, beacon, shovel and avalanche level 1 class could easily cost $1500-$2000. You might want to hold of on the optional gear until next year.


FLAG
By J C Wilks
From Loveland, CO
Dec 24, 2008

EDIT: Cameron Pass is just within 3 hours from Denver/Boulder. It's known for a variety of terrain from mild to wild so it would be a great place to learn but a bit on the far side.

If you're into ice climbing, I use Silvretta bindings that clip into my climbing boots. The boots only have about 5 percent of the ankle support that alpine, downhill boots have but I've managed to get down two 14ers in them.

Definitely take the classes. Always carry a beacon, probe and shovel on steeper terrain. When you buy a shovel make sure it has a metal blade. A probe is relatively cheap and well worth having so that you don't waist time and energy digging. The snow here is pretty different from maritime climates. If you don't like seafood, you're moving to the right place.


FLAG
By Pete Fox
From Boulder, co
Dec 24, 2008
On top of Castleton, Utah.

Hey Brian,

Here's one of the most important back-country ski sites --
Colorado Avalance Information Center

They update back-country weather and avalanche conditions twice daily as well as posting avalanche accident reports. Colorado leads the nation in avalanche incidents, so be careful out there!

Pete


FLAG
By Jon Miller on the WS
Dec 24, 2008

"I view an avalung and probe as somewhat optional."

While I agree on the option of an avalung, I STRONGLY disagree with the idea that a probe is optional. The part of a beacon search that takes the longest for most people is the final, pinpoint stage. Includeing a probe in this stage can make this go much faster. In addition, depending on how deeply a person is buried, even the best beacon with a well trained operator can only pinpoint with in an area of a couple of inches at best, couple of feet at worst. A probe strike gives you a positive point to start digging (DOWNHILL) from. Lots of good new, tested info out there! Check out avalanche.state.co.us/pub/edu_online.php
as a good place to start.

Jon


FLAG
By Mike Pharris
From Longmont, CO
Dec 24, 2008
Climbing above Black Lake

"I view an avalung and probe as somewhat optional."

i couldn't disagree more.

A probe is MANDATORY, once you get a fix with a beacon, the probe is the only way to know where to dig. You won't find many people, (and likely NONE) that would be willing to accompany you in the backcountry if your not carrying a probe. I'd really like you to be able to find me, if you were MY partner. And the probe isn't all that expensive.


FLAG
By Jason Kaplan
From Glenwood ,Co
Dec 25, 2008
avitar pic <br />

WFR and CPR are both good things for sure, Eventually I will look into that when I can save enough money, a self rescue class would be good too but eh..

Not to kick a dead horse here but I agree with everyone above about the avalung and probe. Why dig a hole in the wrong spot wasting precious time and energy especially if said burried soul has no avalung as per your suggestion? Time really is precious, that's why the avalung is important, it can buy you around an hour instead of 5-10 minutes. You do have a valid point about the trauma but that's not the case all the time. In fact on high danger days I always make sure to stay off anything that has the possibility of causing trauma such as cheese grater rocks/cliffs and tree filled track/runout/deposit zones. Short clean run outs, then if you do get burried you got fresh air if your smart and have a lung(your most likely not suffering any blunt trauma), your buddie/s are on standby and come dig you out super quick anyway.

Another note on the probes, proper quick extraction methouds generally use the probe to 1.pinpoint exact location before digging, and 2. give the rescuer the best idea on where to start the hole for a safe quick extraction.(especially if you have depth markers on your probe)

Another point that I am just now reminded about is the importance of knowing the proper way to dig someone out. especially in the case of trauma. I read an article about suggested proper technique for getting someone out safe and fast last year. It suggested you go downhill double the depth of the victim and start digging in from the side IE. tunneling in not digging strait down to the victim. It also suggests using a terracing type system so that the snow can be thrown out of the hole efficiently Ie if there is 2 or more rescuers the second and third person would dig out 2 large stair like platforms down hill so as not to get backed up in the snow removal process, wasting time. First you want to get to the point of the victim having a fresh airway, if no lung is present or if the lung has been ripped out this may involve clearing the mouth and throat of snow. Secondly you need to be careful about moving the victim unless you are sure of their condition. support the neck and spine, slow gentle movements.


FLAG
By Tevis Blom
Dec 25, 2008

I've had lots of fun hitchhiking off of loveland pass/I-6. Moffatt Tunnell/rollins pass is a great ski track into the woods that you (shouldn't) won't get lost on. There are opportunities all over the place. I know it is kind of stupid, but I don't have a beacon or probe (or partners usually for that matter... lazy friends would rather resort ski!). Anyway, I stick to the lower angled lines up top or just stay in the trees, and have been safe so far. When I was a beginner(at backcountry) I hit a few bigger lines before knowing the potential danger, now I feel pretty lucky that nothing happened. The skiing isn't necessarily difficult on the steeps, just dangerous. And you WILL see tracks on things that aren't safe... people ride it anyway, so don't just assume some tracks make it safe.


FLAG
By John McNamee
Administrator
From Littleton, CO
Dec 25, 2008
Artist Tears P3

The first time you get totally buried you're make sure that you always ski with a partner and that they know how to use the equipment. Hence, I'm very careful about who I ski backcountry with. The following is what I would consider basic life support systems and if I left one of them behind I wouldn't get out of the truck:

Probe
shovel
Beacon
Avalung

A shovel is useless without a probe.


FLAG
By Sergio P
From Idaho Springs, CO
Dec 25, 2008
World Champion NY Giants logo

let make clear that I'm not against probes. I have carried them in the past. I'm just saying that in my opinion they are not as mandatory as a shovel or beacon. Here is my main argument against probes: you waist critical time taking the probe off your pack and putting it together. By critical time I mean 30-60 seconds. That is 1/5 of your search time gone. I find them helpful when there is more then 1 person involved in the search. This way 1 person begins the search while the other one grabs the shovel and probe. If you have to do all this yourself I think it is best to search and dig like crazy. So if I ever b/c ski with any of you I'll carry your probe and should an emergency strike I'll probe around before I dig .

Jason, I love your point about knowing how to dig.

Just remember that your best piece of equipment is between your shoulders. Good avalanche safety begins at home when you watch the weather (days before you leave), call the avi center, watch the weather again, pack your pack correctly, watch the weather again and then decide what location is the safest.

I'm surprised no one mention a helmet for backcountry skiing. I'm guilty of not wearing one, but I'm sure they make life safer. Oddly, I wear one at the resorts because I'm scared someone else might hit me.


FLAG
By Evan S
From Erie, CO
Dec 25, 2008
Me, of course

Heading out the backcountry gates at ski areas is an easy way to access OB terrain quickly. It could be a convenient way to spend a little time in "wild" snow and get to know what it's all about before you really head out into the woods and hills. There is good BC skiing a lot more places than you would think in this state, you'll have no problem finding anything you want close to home here.


FLAG
By Jeff Barnow
From Boulder Co
Dec 25, 2008
What goes up must come down

Sergio,

I think your logic pertaining to probes and avalungs is somewhat flawed and bad advice for a beginner. I could see if someone was buried less than 2 feet deep then yeah I would think about not pulling out the probe and just digging but any deeper than that and you need to start thinking about shoveling techniques and tiering the snow as you get deeper. The deeper the victim the worse the situation. Pin pointing a person prior to digging is key in finding them. Without a probe you cannot achieve this.

I think your stats on trama related deaths is inaccurate as well.
www.liebertonline.com/doi/abs/10.1089/ham.2006.0815

The avalung has proven to save lives (www.bdel.com/scene/events/avalung_burial_zaninetti.php) and assuming the victim gets the inhalation tube in their mouth prior to burial you will be working against hypothermia vs. affixiation. I believe that the general rule is more like 10-15 minutes before suffocation without an avalung but obviously the sooner you get them the better.

Colorado is notorious for some the worst avalanche conditions around. With the constant depth hoar layers that riddle our snowpack you are always playing with fire to some extent...even in bounds as proved last week. Too many times I have dug a pit to find exactly what I didn't want to see. Experience and the ability to assess conditions is the most important aspect in being safe in the backcountry but many times its just luck that the snow didn't slide.

avalanche.state.co.us/pub/accidents_co.php As you can see the carnage is high in this state. Extreme caution and awareness is the best approach. The avalanche information center is a fantastic resource for learning and getting up to date information about conditions but is not to be fully trusted. It only takes one slide at the wrong time in the wrong spot to end you and its too broad to fully encompass all potential conditions in all regions/areas/slopes. Just because the pie chart says green or safe and stable snow it doesn't mean it can't slide.


FLAG
By Rick Blair
From Denver
Dec 25, 2008
This is a novel auto blocking belay device.  I think it works quite well, depending on rope thickness and sheath quality, it belays very smooth.  Great to lower with.  You gotta love over engineering.  $3 at a gear swap!

Some good advice here... I won't pile on about the necessity of a probe pole :-) I don't want to sound discouraging either, everyone has to start somewhere.

Skiing out of bounds at a ski area is definitely not "safer". When I used to work at Abasin, there were probably 2 deaths a year out of the back country gates there alone. Montezuma Bowl was notorious.

Skiing in the trees is not necessarily an indicator that you are in safe terrain either. Lower angle slopes are good as long as they are not supporting higher angle snow above.

Your best bet at improving your odds is to start in the late spring when snow packs are more stable, but there is still some risk.

Most of my experience was from before I ever took an avy course, now that I have taken several over the years, I think I may be lucky to have never been buried.

I have often heard over the years that the avalung was a bit of a gimmick, sounds like I need to update my thinking, I guess that never stops.


FLAG
By Buff Johnson
Dec 26, 2008
smiley face

Jason Kaplan wrote:
You won't see me with out a beacon, shovel, probe, or avalung. Mandatory!


I'd also go with this as good for an equip list with -- I guess you'd call it snow travel. I'm not keen on this stuff with technical terrain, but the case for approach hikes has been made on this site about a year or so ago. You could even add getting articles of clothing with RECCO tags -- it adds another tool for locating by the professionals.


With this equipment you need buddy practice as your equipment is worthless shit; because it's your buddy's equipment, education, & proficiency that actually means something if you get buried (& vice versa, your equipment means more to your buddy). Excepting the avalung.

The avalung extends your burial time from 10-15 minutes to hypoxia to further out. Currently, that time is undefined as the sample set isn't large enough to be proven. However, without an avalung, you start freaking in about 5 mintues; with it, you can mitigate CO2 and a build-up of an ice mask -- I'd say indefinitely; then the concerns are hypothermia & trauma. (so your buddy can't make the find for whatever reason; you might, might, just might, have a chance with the avy deployment team & ground rescue response)

To add also to the discussion about the effectiveness of the probe -- yes, you take that extra 30-60 seconds to probe a depth; but it sets up for better planning on your dig so you can work more efficiently on getting to your buddy's airway. The fine search is a problem with beacons and the flux line, especially in a deep burial.

How you dig is more important than trying to save time by not getting your probe out and constructing it and just going with the lowest number on your beacon receive as your mark to start your dig.


Anyone find that topic discussed about avy equipment & technical terrain? I can't remember if I brought it up or not & when we talked about it. Again, I'm not keen on equipment as having a purpose other than for a feel-good media release after the fact; as you're dead in any case from the trauma and your partners can't be effective as the terrain separation is too great to do any good, and access is too timely because it's technical. The exception noted was for the approach hikes, which was a good point.


Also -- with respect to getting education, we have Col Mtn Club & experienced AMGA guides in this state that can help as well as periodic lectures at places like REI & CMC from MRA teams, CMS guides, others -- rescue teams also have periodic public meetings about mitigating terrain. (for Denver - Alpine Rescue has Dale talks). Friends of Berthoud Pass, the involvement of the CAIC; jeeze the list goes on and on.


FLAG
By Michael Schneiter
From Glenwood Springs, CO
Dec 26, 2008
Goofin' on the Grand after soloing the Upper Exum with my wife.

Rick Blair wrote:
I have often heard over the years that the avalung was a bit of a gimmick, sounds like I need to update my thinking, I guess that never stops.

I think the Avalung is lower on the list of priorities when getting your backcountry gear, certainly after beacon, shovel and probe. But, I got one last year because I had a gift certificate at a shop and wanted a new ski pack. I hope that I never get caught in a slide but I figure it's just one more tool to perhaps save me in the event of being caught. Not sure I would have bought it without the gift certificate but the avalung doesn't add a ton to the price of a new BD pack and I have seen the stories (one from France last year, I believe) where people were saved by theirs.


FLAG
By Buff Johnson
Dec 28, 2008
smiley face

Jason Kaplan wrote:
First you want to get to the point of the victim having a fresh airway, if no lung is present or if the lung has been ripped out this may involve clearing the mouth and throat of snow. Secondly you need to be careful about moving the victim unless you are sure of their condition. support the neck and spine, slow gentle movements.


Some good posting on this topic.

To further on another of Jay's posts, once you have an incident & if you're in a group, someone needs to manage the overall situation and call it in asap so you can get medical support & the avy deployment team going for stabilization and transport out of the backcountry.

As you do get your partner unburied & recover the airway; hypothermia & trauma are next concerns. I'd offer to keep your partner as sheltered as possible & insulate them as much as you can; as well, keep yourselves from hypothermia and maintain communication with dispatch. If you have a trauma situation, I'd offer the best thing to do is to stay put & let everyone come to you.


FLAG


Follow replies to this topic? Notify me at the top of web site.
1

Email me.
Page 1 of 1.