Ski the backcountry

Ungroomed terrain offers a bigger fitness challenge.

At resorts nationwide, athletes often travel down pistes, or runs made of compacted snow. But backcountry skiing requires you to venture outside the resorts’ boundaries into ungroomed, natural conditions, says Darcy Conover, a local expert skier for Aspen Skiing Company in Colorado. The sport almost always calls for hiking up the mountain rather than taking a lift, but you can also get there via snowcat, snowmobile, or helicopter.

The backcountry is particularly alluring for athletes as navigating your way down a rougher mountain terrain demands more endurance and strength in the legs and core than skiing down groomed slopes does. On the latter, you can usually see everything in front of you, Conover says, but the backcountry is full of variable conditions (like bumps and powder) that show themselves unannounced. “You must be prepared for anything.”

Before considering the backcountry, master green and blue slopes and gain experience on powder or moguls, which require more fitness. Then, advanced-intermediate and expert skiers with good technique are ready to venture into the unknown.

Note: “When you go beyond that boundary, you ski at your own risk,” says Keith Reid, lead guide at Extremely Canadian Backcountry Adventures in Whistler, British Columbia. The lack of ski patrol, signage, and lifts comes with a higher likelihood of avalanche. Experts always suggest going with a professional guide or, at the minimum, taking an avalanche safety training course.

As they say, with great risk comes great reward. “The vastness and beauty of the backcountry alpine environment is the ultimate attraction,” Reid says. Experts favor these four spots.

Photo: D. Scott Clark/Tandem

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