More and more resorts are allowing customers the option to exit the ski area boundary in search of soft snow in peripheral areas outside of the resort; some even promote this activity in hopes of enticing new customers to pay for lift served backountry access and offer repeat customers the option of a new experience. For decades, dedicated locals have been exploring terrain adjacent to their home resort, often to escape the front-side crowds and savor uncut pow lines. Even small-town hills like Kelly Canyon and Pebble Creek offer some worthwhile backside terrain.
From an industry standpoint, there has been a large jump in retail sales for tour-capable equipment (bindings, skis, splitboards, and skins). In addition, avalanche rescue equipment sales are increasing. Transceivers, collapsible probes, and collapsible shovels, along with balloon packs (air bags), and other devices are being sold with greater frequency. Avalanche education classes are filling up and the demand for Level 1 courses are rising. Some, if not much of the growth is directly related to the increasing number of skiers and boarders in search of powder and alternative terrain outside ski areas. Some industry folks even suggest this sidecountry movement is saving the ski industry from a decline in sales experienced a decade ago. And some resorts are even seeing an increase in revenue from their promotion of sidecountry terrain and open boundary policies.
The sidecountry movement is creating a greater need for education in avalanche awareness, appropriate and safe travel habits in un-mitigated terrain outside of the ski area, and of course, personal responsiblity and accountability. Pass holders leaving resort boundaries are creating a need for ski resorts, ski patrols, and land management agencies to review and adjust dated ski boundary and operational policies. Many ski resorts are leading the charge while others are slow to react. Resort towns and larger ski areas are proactively supporting the sidecountry movement; directly increasing revenue for seasonal businesses . Those slow to react and embrace this movement struggle with a few common themes such as a disconnect from ski industry progression and are generally smaller operations near non-resort towns. Yet, even these areas are starting to see sidecountry traffic trickle into their field of view.
So what’s my point with all of this? Simple. Education. As a sidecountry traveller, terrain, weather, and snow pack are critical key elements to understand when leaving the mitigated terrain of any resort. Equally important are travel habits. In-bounds, you and your bro/bra’s can safely rip the hell outta the slope – all at the same time if that’s your thing (but who’s filming??). Cornices are obvious enjoyable features to express creative whirlibird radness on. You can, without much concern, shred consequential terrain features like cliffs and deep gullies on a regular basis. But as soon as you leave the safety of mitigated in-bounds terrain, the game changes and travelling steep slopes one at a time while avoiding certain terrain features become the standard. Cornices become obvious hazards and great identifiers of probable avalanche start zones. These are only a few of the important considertions for heading out of bounds.
This video depicts the hazards and provides some good basic concepts to understand. However, don’t get sidetracked into thinking avalanches only happen within the realms of “extreme” terrain. With the right conditions and terrain, avalanches can and do occur well below ridgeline and in terrain many would consider moderate in nature. Even shallow snow depths in the right terrain should be suspect and evaluated.
Thanks for reading! Check out the video. Enjoy!