With lockdowns in place and reservations required at California ski resorts, we’ve noticed a massive uptick in backcountry users. People are flocking to the skintrack to get their skiing fix, and we can’t blame them. But as we watch our favorite backcountry ski areas get loved to death, we want to remind our community of uphill skiers of the important dos and don’ts. These backcountry skiing etiquette tips can help take care of our favorite winter zones and keep everyone safe.
Do choose your partners carefully
“Safety in numbers” only goes so far when it comes to backcountry skiing. Groups of 3-4 people are ideal but any more than that and group dynamics become complicated and can quickly lead to dangerous risk management decisions.
Did you know that many avalanche accidents could have been prevented by recognizing and avoiding these common heuristic traps?
This winter season, it’s best to stick to skiing with your household bubble or a regular ski partner to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Plus, group dynamics are much easier to manage with small groups.
Just remember that every decision you make – partners, terrain, gear, etc. – has the potential to ripple through the Truckee Tahoe community. If you or a member of your party gets injured, you could expose your local SAR team to COVID-19, necessitating a 14 quarantine for those first responders and taking up resources from our already strained medical system.
Don’t go out without the essential safety gear
Beacon, shovel, probe. Just like keys, phone, wallet has become a mantra before leaving the house, get into the habit of double, triple checking that you have these three essential items.
Not sure how to use an avalanche beacon? Want to refresh the skills you already have? Take an avalanche class from Tahoe Mountain School.
And don’t stop there! Practice, practice, practice to get faster, more efficient, and really hone in your searching skills.
You should also carry an emergency communication device, like a Garmin InReach, in case you don’t have cell service.
Think about investing in an avalanche airbag pack, if don’t already have one. Accidents happen and if you are caught in a slide, an airbag pack is a life-saving device that can keep you afloat, above the snow. Test and inspect your pack regularly throughout the season. You can get your canister refilled or buy an ABS canister at Tahoe Mountain Sports.
Do “know before you go”
Now is a great time to brush up on avalanche education! Start by taking a deep dive into the free educational resources available through the Sierra Avalanche Center. Then sign up for an avalanche education class to take that knowledge to the next level.
Here are some know before you go tips:
- Check the daily avalanche advisory
- Read through recent observations
- Know the weather forecast
- Learn how to stay safe in avalanche terrain
- Follow current COVID health and safety guidelines
- Get the parking beta and know where to park legally
Don’t clog the skintrack
Follow these basic rules of the road for skinning to be safe and courteous of other backcountry users.
- Set a user-friendly skin track or follow an established one
- Ascend single file
- Yield to downhill traffic
- Keep your dog under control (and pick up poop!)
- Give others plenty of space to pass
- Wear a headlamp in low visibility conditions
Oh, and please. No snowshoeing in the skintrack!
Do give skiers 6 feet of space
It’s time to get serious about social distancing. Just because you’re outside, does not mean that you can’t transmit COVID!
Be COVID-aware on the trail and gather in crowds, stay home if you’re not feeling well, and give other parties plenty of space when passing. You can’t tell who is considered at risk or immunocompromised so don’t make assumptions. Now more than ever, we need to respect one another and err on the side of caution.
If you are stopped on the skintrack, please move off and give passersby’s at least 6 feet of space.
But don’t just take our word for it, read this story of splitboarder in Washington who didn’t take social distancing seriously.
Don’t take up all the parking spaces
Sharing the trail with other backcountry users starts at the parking lot. More people than usual are heading into the backcountry and for many of us, this time outside is vital to our mental and physical health and well-being. So consider your fellow skier and rider next time you arrive at a trailhead – back into spaces that way other skiers have room to park.
Basically, don’t be like these guys…
On-street parking is strictly monitored at popular backcountry ski areas in Truckee and Lake Tahoe and local officials have been ticketing cars that are parked illegally. Always check parking regulations before heading out.
Do ski kind
At the end of the day, just remember to ski kind. This handy backcountry responsibility code is a great guide to winter backcountry etiquette.
If we all follow these simple guidlines, everyone will have more fun and we can have a safe season of backcountry shredding!
For more backcountry skiing etiquette, check out these tips from the Tahoe Backcountry Alliance.
Former park ranger turned writer/marketer. Always down for a sufferfest, as long as it ends with ice cream. Favorite activities include backcountry skiing, trail running, and backpacking.