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Backcountry Skiing with Inspired Summit

Throughout our travels, we are constantly looking to push the envelope of our adventures. Taking our first ski trip in the backcountry was awe-inspiring, educational, and humbling all in one.

Preparing for Backcountry Skiing

As we packed up our gear, getting ready to head out for our first backcountry ski tour, Nate and I meticulously inventoried our packs as Shaun and Weston watched over. Water, check; food, check; ski goggles, check; extra layers, check. Avalanche beacon, check.

Avalanche Danger and Preparations

Avalanche danger had been high in the Wasatch Range this season. Low snow and higher than usual temperatures contributed to that. As little as I know about avalanches, even I had read up on the dangers we were facing by going into the backcountry. Friends had warned us that it may not be the best idea.

However, we were with some of the best avalanche experts in the industry. Our friends Shaun and Weston of Inspired Summit know their shit, to say the least. We were beyond confident in them, and they took the time to explain the dangers as well as precautions to us.

Our First Taste of Backcountry Skiing

As we stepped into our skis and headed up the trail, Nate and I hammered out questions for Shaun and Weston at every turn. “What is the slope angle of that? Is that a recent slide? How was that one triggered?” Their knowledge astounded me, and I craved to learn more.

My want to learn more slowly faded as my rented ski boot became more and more uncomfortable. Just before reaching the top, I lost all feeling in my right leg. Ugh! Pressing on was impossible, so I popped out of the ski and stretched it out right on the mountain. Instant relief, thank goodness.

Even in the pain of that moment, I couldn’t help but smile at how incredible my surroundings were. Here I was, in the backcountry of Big Cottonwood Canyon in Utah, skinning up with three amazing friends. My mind drifted to where I had been just two years prior on that same day: in an office, stressed to the max about tax season. With that thought, I snapped back into my skis and pressed forward. If I could get through tax season, I could conquer this mountain.

Just above me, I spotted Shaun, who had skinned ahead to scout our route. She was removing her skins: we’re ready to get our shred on!

Now, I’ve skied powder before, many times. But even in the low snow conditions, this time was different. Dropping in just after Weston, I was elated by the freedom I felt, the connection with my surroundings. THIS is what everyone talks about. It’s not just the untouched powder that draws adventure seekers to the backcountry. It’s the feeling of connection, accomplishment, and sheer freedom.

Education in the Backcountry

I’m grateful for Shaun and Weston for taking us out on this trip. If it hadn’t been for their knowledge and expertise, we would’ve never taken this trip. Their guidance pushed us beyond what we could’ve done on our own, and it just goes to show how much difference it can make to have an expert guiding your first trip.

We learned a lot on this trip. There are some major consequences of not being fully prepared for backcountry touring. Here are some of the key points we learned and discussed this trip:

Know Before You Go: This common phrase in the industry reminds you to be well educated in the backcountry before going out. This includes knowing how to avoid avalanches and having the right tools (and ability to use them) for your backcountry tour. Shaun’s write up in talks about education further. Check it out here.

Preparation is Essential: As with any adventure, proper preparation and planning is essential to the success of the trip. Our plan was carefully laid out and each of us knew the details of the trip. We discussed the route, different options, and timing prior to going out, and we re-evaluated as necessary with conditions.

Slope Angles Matter: Because of the avalanche danger, Shaun and Weston agreed that we needed to stay below 35 degrees. That also meant watching out for bigger terrain above us, making sure we weren’t skiing below something that could break above us.

Communication is Key: Everyone had veto power if something didn’t feel right, and we continually communicated any issues we were having (like my leg falling asleep). Making sure everyone feels comfortable and safe is important. It makes for a better time and a safer time out in the backcountry.

Always Have Fun: You’re out there to have a good time, not to pound your body into submission. Keep the mood light and make sure everyone is enjoying their time. Bad attitudes can lead to bad decisions, so making sure everyone is happy and comfortable is essential to everyone’s success.