It always goes like this: It snows. Then it snows a little more, and then, suddenly, even though it’s not even Thanksgiving, your Facebook feed is full of pictures of friends out getting rad.
Getting faceshots. Actually skiing, even though it’s November and they can’t realistically be making turns on more than a few inches.
You can’t see that in their Instagrams, though. So you start to get frothy. “Must get out,” you think, and start rallying plans for a weekend mission to the mountains.
Even if the ski resort is closed, you can get out into the backcountry.
But that Insta-fueled excitement can be dangerous — especially before the first dumps of the season set up. So here’s how to play it safe in the early season backcountry.
Don’t freak outStep 1: Deep breath. Sure, you’re frothing, and last season sucked and everyone was at Baker yesterday without you. Still, stop. Breathe.
This is not the end of it, and it will just get better.
Early season snowpack is notoriously tender, especially if you live in the middle of the country; no one is in ski shape yet, and everyone is so fired up that their decision-making skills might be clouded. Go slow, don’t just jump on the first chance you get and if you’re feeling wary, turn back.
There will be another day. (This advice also holds for Internet dating.)
Practice with your gear
Perhaps you got a schmancy new airbag pack, or you have not touched your beacon since you put new batteries in it this time last year. (Side note: Put new batteries in your beacon.)
Take that stuff out and mess around with it. In your living room, in the parking lot, in flat snowfields.
In avalanches, when airbags don’t work, 60 percent of the time it’s user error. You can do a lot of easy things to avoid that.
Get smartIf you haven’t taken an avalanche class, do it. Now. This time of year there are plenty of them, so no excuses.
But your backcountry education shouldn’t stop there. Keep educating yourself, both on your skills and on your familiarity with the areas and snow you’ll be riding. Monitor the avalanche report and the weather; keep your eye on local blogs and trip reports.
Don’t ever go in blind.
Talk to each otherMaybe you made new friends over the summer. You bonded, back when it was sunny, over your mutual love of snowsportsing, and now you’re in the parking lot, putting skins on. That’s great, but going out with a new crowd also comes with some risks.
Set a plan before you go, keep communicating, and always speak up if you feel uncomfortable. Actually, same thing goes for people you ski with all the time. Keep the lines of communication open: You never know if someone has the same trepidations you do if you don’t ask them.
This isn’t vanity. Being strong means being safe, especially in the backcountry, where your legs are responsible for getting you out of any situation you get yourself into. Ski conditioning is not a fallacy.
Early season is a good time to start doing squats while you wait for your coffee in the morning or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Also, take care of your body when you’re out there. Sunblock yourself. Drink water, eat more than just mini-Snickers. Don’t have too many beers before you hit the parking lot.
Remember: If there’s enough snow to ski, there’s enough to start an avalanche. None of this “Oh, it’s just a couple of inches” shizz.
No one wants to be the fool who drowned in a bathtub. Take care of yourself and take care of your friends.
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