Let’s talk about the backcountry, baby
Reason No. 743 why I adore Steamboat: It doesn’t take much snow to get the mountain in gorgeous shape. What a lovely relief to finally ski some real powder. And it is everywhere.
One of the fun things about this time of year is there are so few people compared to the amount of terrain that is open, so even the 2″ overnight and the 2″ that fell yesterday make it feel like a powder day. That early season ice layer that we had to deal with is down there, but the storms have delivered plenty of snow to cover it up and make skiing what we love – floating, playful riding.
But that is in bounds.
Let’s talk about out of bounds. Yes, there are fewer tracks, and yes that is the same great new snow covering the ice layer, but it is completely uncontrolled by the ski area and ski patrol. There has been a huge increase in recent years in the number of skiers and riders venturing into the side country – areas outside the ski area boundary but accessible via gates on the edges of resort terrain. I am certainly one of them. I love the backcountry in Steamboat, both close to and far from the resort.
This year is a good year to revisit why and how we choose to ski outside of the resort. That ice layer will be there all season, even if we aren’t feeling it beneath our skis. We often have years when the avalanche danger remains considerable because of buried, dangerous layers and the potential for big slides. Think twice before skiing out one of those gates – you know, the ones with a skull and crossbones on them – think three times, think four.
There is some confusion circulating about ski patrol and the ski area’s ability to ‘open’ the backcountry. They cannot close the backcountry because it is National Forest and everyone has the right to be there. What they can do is close areas of the resort that lead to access to that backcountry, many of which are closed right now so that patrol can manage snow stability in bounds before opening the areas to the public. The resort, as well as patrol and Routt County Search and Rescue, are also working to better communicate their ability to help when people get injured or lost in the areas accessed by the gates. Rule No. 1 of the rescuer: scene safety. If an area is unsafe for rescuers to travel into, due in this case to avalanche danger, the rescuers will not go in until the snow has stabilized enough for them to not put themselves in harms way. That means on certain days, if you get lost back there, they may not be able to come get you. So think five times before you pass that skull and crossbones.
With the skiing as good as it is in bounds, stick to the resort. There are soft, lovely powder turns everywhere. Welcome back winter. My legs feel you and so does my skiing loving heart.
Thanks to patrol for working so hard to get the whole mountain up and running, taking us from all groomers to getting after it in no time flat!
For more information about avalanche danger in the backcountry, visit the Colorado Avalanche Information Center website.
Ali Givnish, Alpine skier