What is Backcountry Skiing, and can I do it?

back country ski touring vacation

Many people know what cross country (XC) skiing looks like, but many of our new guests ask us “What is backcountry skiing?”  Backcountry skiing is the most popular kind of skiing at the ranch and one of our hallmark winter activities.

First off, it’s important to understand that backcountry skiing is a broad term that means different things to different people.  For some, this is an extreme sport that you might see in an epic ski movie.  That is not what we’re doing here!  Our version is probably better described as backcountry touring.

Imagine taking a hike through a pristine meadow covered with a blanket of untouched snow.  You cross the meadow and head into the trees.  The hush of the forest is disturbed only by the plop of snow puffs falling out of the trees.  You see fox tracks and keep an eye out for a moose or elk sighting in the distance.  Once out of the forest, you find yourself gliding across a lake that is covered in a thick layer of ice and frosted with fresh powder.  As you head back home, your stomach starts to grumble for lunch.  The hearty breakfast has worn off as you’ve been burning calories out in the woods, and it’s time to warm up by the fire.  That is backcountry touring.

From a technical perspective, what this looks like is a heavy duty pair of cross-country boots and skis.  Your heel is free, so the boot connects only at the toe.  This allows the kick and glide motion that propels you through the snow.  The skis are wider and heavier than a traditional cross-country ski, so you will float in the snow, which means less work for you to get through the powder.  Some backcountry touring skis have metal edges, which makes it easier to grip the snow on a side-hill, or make a turn if you are playing around with going down hills in the backcountry.

At Vista Verde, our guides first teach our guests the basics of backcountry touring.  We show our guests how to move forward as efficiently as possible, and teach how to get up and down small hills.  Most importantly, we teach how to get up when you fall down.  The great part of being out in fresh powder is it doesn’t hurt if you fall!  But you need to know how to get back up in the fluffy stuff, as it can feel pretty bottomless after a big snow storm.  Then, we head out to one of the areas where we like to ski.  With millions of acres in the Routt National Forest, our terrain options are extensive.  Most of the time our guided tours last 1 ½- 2 hours, but there are a few days a week that we pack up a lunch for the more adventurous skiers and head out all day.  Those are double dessert days!

We’d love to introduce you to backcountry skiing, so come play with us this winter!