Montana Backcountry 101

We’re stoked you’re into backcountry skiing and snowboarding. But as the community grows so does the need for everyone to know good community behavior. Here are some tips specific to Montana.

1. Learn avalanche safety: This is the most basic rule. There are literally dozens of avalanche courses in the state and loads of online resources. Getting educated is not hard and the first step in being a safe backcountry skier or rider.

2. Be in shape and be prepared: Look, backcountry skiing in Montana is hard. The approaches are long, mid-winter light is short, the conditions are variable, and bushwhacking is pretty much mandatory. So, be fit, tell someone your plans before you go, and don’t bite off more than you can chew. Count on not having cell phone reception and bring a headlamp or two.

3. Don’t learn to ski by learning to ski in the backcountry: Backcountry skiing in Montana requires intermediate or above skiing skills. Terrain is difficult to access, conditions are variable and tours are long. This goes double for introducing your spouse or bestie to backcountry skiing. This goes triple for friends from Colorado and California.

4. Test your equipment and know how to use it: This means all your equipment. Know how to use your bindings, skis and skins. Test out your beacon, preferably in the snow. There are beacon practice areas at Lolo Pass. Yes you do need a probe and shovel on every tour. Enough said.

5. Start with the right terrain: Sure, we all want to ski Sacagawea or Pinball Wizard, but it takes years to gain the skills and experience to pull that off. Start small and build your knowledge; you’ll have more fun anyway.

6. DON’T BOOT THE SKIN TRACK: Every time you boot the skin track, God kills a kitten. Or if you’re a dog person, a puppy.

7. Know your terrain: Yes, you can lost at the G-Spot and you can get turned around on History Rock. So, bring a map, know your route and ski new areas with people who been there before.

8. Don’t blindly follow skin or down tracks:  This ties into #7. Just because someone skied or skinned somewhere doesn’t mean it’s a good place for you to be. Or that that they had any clue as to where they were either. Seriously, this is actually a really common way people get completely f’ed. We highly recommend getting a GPS app for your phone to bring along with your PAPER MAP!

9. Know basic backcountry protocol: This means proper spacing for ascents and descents, being aware of other parties in the area, not dropping in on top of people, not skinning below people skiing, not letting your dog shit on the skin track and chase other skiers, having a group leader and decision making process, not splitting up the group and generally not being an idiot. Also, don’t be afraid to politely educate other backcountry users on safe touring protocols.

10. Don’t be afraid to turn around so you can ski another day: There are like 12,398 breweries in Montana for you to patron after your mission failure. Just don’t drive home drunk.

If you are new to the sport and need some help getting started, drop us a line at montanabackcountry@gmail.com.

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