Part of the excitement and fun surrounding mountain biking, backcountry skiing, trail running, and anything else outside is exploration. Anytime you ride a new trail, ski a new line, or run up a new mountain you feel like Christopher Columbus sailing to the Americas.
With mountain biking and other summer sports, exploring isn’t as intimidating. You don’t have to worry about avalanches, and you’re on a set trail. You just need to follow it.
Backcountry skiing has another element to it where you simply look on map interfaces like caltopo where you look at ridges to ascend, and faces to descend. It’s so open.
One of the most important things to do though, is to follow a skin track. This makes it more like a mountain bike exploration, because you’re following a trail that has already been established. Most of the time the people who have already been up before you know where they’re going. Occasionally it’s sheep following sheep, but it’s generally worth the chance. If the skin track goes somewhere you don’t feel comfortable with, then you start making your own plan and going your own way.
Here are the steps I follow when thinking about finding a new area to ski in.
- Look on Maps. (Caltopo, Google Earth, etc.)
- Stalk people on Strava who have already done it. (Most people hide their maps now, but if you go back several years you can often find unhidden maps and look to see how they skied in an area).
- Go to the trailhead and follow the skinner. (Assuming their is one, which is usually the case if you start after 9 am.) It doesn’t pay to be early.
- Make decisions based on the skin track, the people you stalked, and the maps you looked at as you ascend and descend.
For biking it’s pretty much the same, but also look at Trail Forks.
On Saturday we explored a new area and followed these steps and it was awesome. We’ll definitely be back!