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How to start Backcountry Riding.

9753 Views 80 Replies 13 Participants Last post by  GeeJayBee
Hello peeps.

Will try to make this short. My GF and Friends made me a surprise birthday party (I don't like birthdays) and gave me some backcountry related presents. The biggest one is from GF, it's an avalanche airbag backpack.

We are going to mount baker this January and I already googled if I could sign up for backcountry classes but unfortunately, dates are a little off. So no classes for now.

In the middle of the process, I was a bit confused about how many classes there are, and how diverse backcountry in general (Heli skiing, cat tracks, hiking (that requires split boards)). The thing is I am more focused on my career for now and work, so I am on the budget. My GF knows how much I love snowboarding and wants me to start riding backcountry and introduce her and her friends eventually.

Could you please navigate me and let me know what classes and courses I need to take to be aka "safe and prepared" for backcountry? From what I understand AIARE 1 and AIARE 2 are must have but what about others? I can't afford splitboards for at least 2 years, so, for now, all I can is snowshoeing and leaving resort boundaries.

Also, it seems mount baker has a really good infrastructure when it comes to learning backcountry, here on east coasts we don't have it this developed. Is there another mountain someone can recommend we can plan a trip and corporate backcountry learning with? I heard Tahoe has a good infrastructure as well.

Thank you!
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Classes are one thing, but a lot comes down to experience and repetition. No class can ever cover all situations and variables. I do an repetition class every year, and learn new things every year.

To start, I'd join your local mountaineering club, if it exists at yours, to join experienced bc tourers, learn where the easy tours in your region are, learn from older ppl who have toured the region for decades, or do guided tours and suck up knowledge there.
Have any of you gotten any winter survival training or is it just avalanche training?
What do you mean by winter survival training? In my neck of woods, a bc day looks like this: pack gear, skin up a mtn, ride it down, go home. Or if it's a multiday trip: pack gear, skin up, ride to an alpine hut, sleep, rinse repeat.

It's very unlikely to get lost for several days as we have a dense alpine hut system. Thus, I never had anything which I'd call winter survival training - which sounds like staying alive somewhere remote for days. If we'd get cought by bad weather and wouldn't be able to navigate to the next hut (which we avoid by studying forcasts, and having maps n compas and plan B), I'd know to dig a snow cave to get off the wind and always carry an emergency bivvy bag and thermal blankets to survive a night out, but that's it.
If someone gets hurt, we have the basic emergency medi-kit, know to do a splint or sledge to evacuate someone mildly hurt, but if it's bad, we have heli rescue. If someone would be badly hurt AND it's bad down-day heli weather AND get lost n couldn't reach the next hut? Yup, we would be screwed. But then qlso things would have gone wrong before tgat, like making bad decisions beforehand. That's why weather and a plan B is a prime decision factor to us.
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Just being curious. And if you can stay alive for one day you could likely stay alive for more :)
Food and hot tea and heat would run out after that night. In this hypothetical situation there would be a blizzard, or else I wouldn't be in the situation. So... IF that blizzard would continue, I'd be dead the next night, because I haven't packed for an expedition, but for a bc day trip. And I can sccept that risk, cos it's very low, cos I'd never get on a bc trip if chances for a blizzard are there.
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I realize in many ways we are just arguing about semantics. The reality is we take risks. The key is to understand the risks so you can accurately evaluate whether you are comfortable with that level of risk.
to add to what neni says, it can be hard to carry everything you want to or that you should carry. My pack is only so large and it already feels quite heavy. Speed is safety in the mountains and being able to travel fast and light without getting exhausted is important.

BC is all about risk management, and the gear you pack is part of it. The more you pack, for the more situations you are prepared, sure, BUT the heavier the pack, the slower you get, which in turns increases your risk. It's give and take.

Thus it depends on what type of BC venture is on the table that day. Like, if I would pack for a multiday traverse in a rural place with no cell coverage and rescue? Sure, my pack would be totally different. But so would be the plan for which route and how far. (Since I endure cold badly, this is out of my scope anyway. I only do multiday hut to hut trips. I.e. only basic survival stuff needed to increase my personal risk feel as I reach a warm hut in the evening). Different bc trips require different gear and allow for different travel speed and routing.

OTOH, there's an absolute minimum which I take to venture BC. Beacon, probe, shovel is absolutely mandatory to me even if it's only lift accessible resort peaks towering above lifts n groomers (which at ours is bc cos it's not bombed nor patrolled). Just today, it was incredibly tempting, as someone did one of those peaks and it looked as if there is real nice pow, and it means this someone has cut the necessary steps... would have been an easy 1hr bootpack from the top lift to access a great 800m run back down to resort. Avy risk down to mellow. Tempting. But we didn't have any gear, so it was a clear NO.

I know ppl who do that peak in such conditions without any gear, solo. And that's fine. That's their personal risk level. It's not mine. I always think that I don't want to end up as that gal in the statistics who would have an avy pack n allat home but got caught that one day she rode in resort mode with nothing.

Same goes for many other, slightly less risky "bc" off piste runs at ours. Countless ppl ride them without any gear. I don't. Because shit could happen. Has. Risk is low, but the remaining odds are too high for me. Not high enough to keep me from riding there, of course, but... IF shit happens, I want to be able to search my partner, do everything possible to find him and keep him alive. Sure, there'd be the risk he died from trauma anyway, or I wouldn't reach him quick enough, but those are the margins we take and live with. What I couldn't live with is standing there bare handed, not able to even try to rescue him because we went without any gear.

So... in short: bc <> bc and risk management is a personal thing.
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Hmm, does the avalanche detector only work after an avalanche has occurred? If so, it won't be that useful.
Now that would be a useful suggestion for the next engineer classes project survey
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^^^HAHAHA! OMG that looks terrible! The bs you deal with to do the backcountry thing.

That is a great example. I've also ridden avalanche debris that is complete soft. Usually point release type stuff, or a soft storm slab that broke loose and didn't slide fast and far enough to melt and refreeze. It all depends. If the slide is large enough, it's probably going to be pretty awful to ride through. *See above...
Lol, yeah. We had to cross several frozen debris fields today to reach a short run of 400m pow in northern aspect, and then hop turn through a southern aspect minefield of grass n rocks to get out. A lot of work for a hand full sweet turns, but still worth it.
AND, less dangerous than riding groomers ATM, where holiday vacation crowds in constant mulled wine xmas-new year mood crash into eachother at too high speeds. (Rescue heli flew 5 times yesterday to evacuate injured groomer folks).
Yup BC is cheap compared to a heli ride to the ER...and not much joy to be had. Even an ambulance ride to the ER is going to be at least a 4 hour ordeal at our little hill.
Heli isn't that expensive. Actually quite cheap IMO. We only pay 40$ a year for Rega (Swiss Heli Rescue organisation) membership. That's it. If injured, they'd fetch us, w/o additional cost.
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Yeah, we saw how that worked. Have fun getting transported down the mountain 100 feet below on a cable dangling and swinging under the heli!!!

(Actually, I’d find that the best part of the experience.)

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Mmm... our Helis have inboard transportation. No cable. They transport goods to huts or cows with cable, tho.
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Can I have a full cylinder in the baggage?
Nope. I even had a TSA guy who insisted to look into the cylinder as he didn't believe the gauge which showed that it's empty. (And as the valve needs a new seal after opening, I begun to carry replacement seals on later trips, until I gave up and bought a jetforce for US trips cos on the next trip another TSA guy didn't believethat the bag doesn'thave any pyrotechnics and held us up forever and we almost missed the flight)

According to Mammut, one can also refill at certain fire stations. Theh have a list of such stations on their homepage
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