One of the good things about tele skiing is that you automatically have skis, boots, and bindings that work for touring. But you aren’t ready to hit the backcountry just because you have a free heel. Here are a few tips to help make your first time as enjoyable as possible.
Photo Credit: Tommy Chandler
Make sure you know what you’re doing: learn about the backcountry, practice with the equipment you’ll be using, and practice with the buddies you’ll tour with. It’s ideal to have your own probe, shovel and beacon, but that’s not always realistic money-wise, especially at first. If you’re borrowing gear, practice with it. All of it (yes, even the probe). If you get into a situation where seconds count, you don’t want to be the one standing there wondering how to make your probe stiff.
Bindings with climbing bars, heel inserts that flip up and double as climbing bars, or spring-loaded heels are a must. I had cable bindings and no climbing bars my first time in the backcountry, and trying to get traction on the steep switchbacks made me laugh, sweat nervously, and want to pee with fear all at the same time.
It isn’t ideal to borrow skins, but if that’s what you have to work with, the skins have good glue, and they cover all of your skis, you’ll be ok. Halfway up the ascent, the duct tape, rubber bands, and whatever else you used to secure the ends or tips to your skis will probably fail, but as long as the glue is solid, the skins will stay on your skis and you’ll make it up. The first time doesn’t have to be perfect—just expect to do some stopping, cursing, and adjusting. If you have the money, though, invest in skins and make sure the tip and tail attachments work well with your skis.
You’re skinning up with just the blue-yellow glow of your headlamps against the pre-dawn sky. It’s quiet, serene … except for that clanking sound each time you move. That’ll be your shovel and probe unless you’re using a backpack that keeps them separate and secured down. If a touring-specific pack is out of your reach and you’re not afraid of craft stores, some elastic and a few safety pins can be a start to keeping those items secured in your pack. Just make loops that fit tightly across your gear, and pin the elastic to the inside-back of your pack, not the front (poking holes in the front of your pack can let water droplets through).
OK, donuts aren’t going to be the best pick. Bring a snack that’s easy to nibble on during short breaks, and one that’s easy to fit in your pocket. Chocolate-covered espresso beans, nuts, trail mix, jerky, or an energy bar that’s broken into small pieces. Check out these next-level backcountry snacks for some delicious and out-of-the-ordinary recipes for touring fuel. Also make sure to bring plenty of water and whatever drink mix you’re used to. No, not gin and tonic—your usual workout mix.
Tour with people you trust. If you’re with people you trust and don’t feel pressured to impress, you’ll have way more fun. You’ll also feel more comfortable speaking up if you feel like the terrain is unsafe, even if you have the least amount of experience in the group. Leave egos behind and make safety and fun your two goals. Here are some tips on spotting a bad backcountry partner.
Pick a short tour. On teles, you work on the way up and on the way down. Of course, the way down will be face-shots fun, but unless you’re in stellar shape, your quads will still be burning. A nice short tour is a good way to make sure you don’t end up pushing yourself beyond your limits and risking injury.
Planning a day tour in the Wasatch? Check out these four short and sweet tours.