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(Yet) more things I have learned while back country skiing

Written by Fiona

February 16 2016

I have already blogged about 27 things I learned while back country skiing in America. Then, we headed off on another tour, this time to ski the Columbia Bowls off the Teton Pass in Wyoming, and I learned even more things. Eleven more things, to be exact!

1) The Tetons Mountains have special beacon searching practice areas. This is very useful for teaching and reminding people how to use their beacons to search a transmitter (in a real-life avalanche situation, the transmitter would be attached to the buried person). Our group split into three teams to seek out three transmitters hidden beneath the snow.

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The experience was invaluable. One of the most important things that I learned was that you have to take into account the depth of the thing (body) that you are searching for as well as the distance along the ground.

2) My Bergans of Norway ski pants have a special pocket designed for the avalanche beacon.

3) There is a smart method to doing tight turns on uphill paths. Everyone has a different way of describing the method and showing me how to do it. In the end, it will be practice and confidence that gives me the ability to do fast and smooth turns and I am slowly but surely mastering it.

4) Ski touring crampons might be a good idea for our next overseas trip. I own them but left them at home thinking they would only be useful for icy Scottish conditions. However, several people suggested that crampons would be helpful on steep uphills.

5) It is possible to go for a toilet break without unlayering my top half and without taking off my skis! I simply unzipped the top section of one side of my ski pants and… (I won’t go into details!)

6) Ski touring requires a lot of clothing changes. This is because it makes you both hot and cold. When you are working hard on the ups it makes you over-heat so you need to take off lots of layers. Then, as you climb higher, or the wind picks up, or you are about to ski downhill, you need to add more layers. I spent each tour continually adjusting my clothing, gloves, hats etc to allow for he right body temperature.

7) Breathable shells are a good idea for ski touring, especially if they have zipped vents.

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8) There is a lot to remember when ski touring. (I think I mentioned this in my last post). On the most recent tour I almost forgot my “skins”. We had to turn back some five minutes into the car journey so I could fetch the skins I’d left at base. Without skins I would not have been able to join the tour.

Then, on the first downhill ski section I forgot to change my boots from walk mode to ski mode. This meant I was trying to ski tricky deep snow with loose boots. I had done up all the clips etc but had not done the final ski-mode adjustment.

9) Skiing powder is a really tricky business if you don’t know how. I found it hard to relax because I was inexperienced and this made it far trickier to ski the deep back country snow. This is the type of snow that everyone loves in the back country but it made me nervous. I am learning fast but I was far too tense to really enjoy it.

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10) Back country skiing is sociable. We headed off as part of a big group of friends and variously I got to talk to – and listen in to – lots of interesting conversations. At times I could hardly talk because uphill skiing is exhausting, while at other times I found enough breath to chat. I really enjoyed this side of the sport.

11) The Tetons pass, on each side of Highway 22, in Idaho and Wyoming offers numerous back country skiing trails and for all levels of ability. Find a guide (on an expert friend) and try it for yourself.

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