Want to start snowboarding off-piste and out of bounds? Then check out my backcountry snowboarding tips below.
Getting out into the backcountry is a different realm of snowboarding. Exploring untracked terrain, sharing stories with friends and feeling healthily exhausted at the end of the day, are just some of the reasons many of us love this branch of the sport.
It takes a lot more energy and effort to safely snowboard in the backcountry compared to riding in resort. But when you’re miles away from the lift lines, and your friends are the only other signs of humanity, the little extra legwork is more than worth it.
I try to leave the resorts behind at least once a week throughout a season and if possible it would be every day! Through these wanderings in the alpine I’ve picked up some good tips. Many from more experienced people, others simply through trial and error.
But before we begin here’s a quick mandatory (I can hear the yawns cranking already) disclaimer. These backcountry snowboarding tips are things that have helped me travel more comfortably outside of resorts and made my experiences more enjoyable. They’re not going to save your live in an emergency situation.
The most important thing is to get properly trained by a recognised professional before snowboarding backcountry. You need to have the appropriate gear and know how to use it. You should understand avalanche bulletins and regularly read it for your area. Plus you must know where you are going or be with someone who does – so book a guide if on holiday!
OK so I said this disclaimer would be quick…. And I am starting to go on a bit. But it is so important that you don’t just follow other peoples tracks, or buy an avalanche bag and think that makes you safe. Off-piste and out of bounds can be very dangerous, so get appropriate training and experience with a professional.
Safety malarky out of the way! Also it is worth noting these tips are not to improve your riding, or about your gear they are things that help keep me happy and comfortable when backcountry riding.
Have you heard of that late and great Ueli Steck, the ‘Swiss Machine’? He’s the guy who’s climbed the Grandes Jorasses near Chamonix in two hours and twenty minutes, the Matterhorn in less than 2hrs, and perhaps most impressively the Eiger in under 3hrs.
He followed that with smashing ascent records in Nepal, but unfortunately died on Everest in 2017. It wasn’t speed that killed him as he was not trying to break records when he fell, but speed could ruin your day. So leave the speed climbing to the pros and set your own steady pace.
Not everyone in your group will have the same experience or level of fitness as you. So if you always try to match the fastest member it will leave you exhausted. Go at your own pace – arriving at a summit ten minutes behind on an hour long hike won’t make any difference. But push yourself too hard and on rubbery legs you won’t enjoy the ride down.
What food you take on your missions depends largely on personnel preferences and individual tastes. Certain food groups however lend themselves perfectly to out of bounds adventures. My food related backcountry snowboarding tips all come from personal experience….
Dried fruit and nuts are high in the sugars and calories that you’ll quickly be burning off, and are easy to carry. I normally make up my own mix in a ziplock bag and keep it in a handy pocket whilst hiking for some quick nourishment. I sometimes chuck some jelly babies or M&Ms in there too.
If you are out for a full day then you need something more substantial. A baguette or crusty roll with a dry(ish) filling, such as ham and cheese rather than tuna mayo, tends to work well. It will probably be squashed by the time you eat it but unlike sandwiches it is less likely to fall apart.
In my experience some foods are also best avoided. Anything able to burst or split will. Bananas, hard boiled eggs and stuff in plastic containers have all decorated themselves round the inside of my pack at one time or another. Always take some food beyond what you expect to eat as backup emergency food – a chocolate bar or flapjack is good for this.
Water is a must and I try to carry as much as I comfortably can. I find about 1.5 litres will keep me quenched on a day trip until I get back to civilisation. Then I’ll literally drain another litre or so. This probably isn’t the best way to hydrate but I like to keep my pack relatively light.
One of my biggest backcountry snowboarding tips is to avoid sports top water bottles as they will leak. Not only do you lose your precious water but you could end up with a very wet and icy back. A hot drink can be a lovely treat, get a thermos like the Hydro Flask (I have two they are great!), which won’t break if (when) you take a tumble. Check out the range of Hydroflask bottles here.
Beer. Beer is not a good hydrator… But it doesn’t half taste good sitting on top of a mountain! The social element of snowboarding in the backcountry is part of the fun, and a shared can of beer or a sip of Genepi is a real bonding moment. Just don’t pack glass and take your empties with you.
Get a Good Crew. Finding the right people to regularly go into the backcountry with can sometimes be difficult. The most important thing is that you can trust these people to have your back if situations go sideways.
The more experienced they are the better, but keenness and reliability are often equally sought out qualities. Remember you only gain experience through doing.
If you don’t have the most experienced group then start small and work your way onto bigger adventures. A good way to gain experience is to hire a guide for your group. Not only will they find you the best lines for the conditions, but you’ll learn a lot and they’ll keep you safe. It’s always better to return from a trip eager for more than not to return at all.
Get out regularly. This point is more of a continuation of backcountry snowboarding tips number four, but is worth mentioning on its own. Experience can only really be gained from getting out there, in all conditions, not just when it’s epic.
For a start, practice improves your off-piste and out of bounds fitness. The more you hike or skin up peaks the easier it becomes. Then when you get a powder day you can fit more in.
I’ve also surprised myself at how much fun I’ve when there’s no powder at all. You are riding crusty ‘freshies’ or even icy and cut up packed powder, but you are still having fun. This just shows it’s more about the company and the journey than the conditions in which you ride. Plus riding poor conditions really improves your snowboarding.
I hope you find these backcountry snowboarding tips useful. If you are new to the joys of off-piste and out of bounds shredding be sure to get some training. Check out this review of Mint backcountry camp as it would be a good place to start.