The Top 10 Bad Backcountry Skiing Habits

Along with 10 top solutions.

1. Half Lapping
It’s one thing to break trail up the side of a big beautiful bowl and look back to see multiple groups coming up behind you. It is a totally different story, however, to see people making it halfway up the climb, ripping their skins and snagging first half-tracks. Totally lame.

Remedy: Public shaming. Bad karma. Social media callout.

2. Ass Camping
Backcountry skiing is not a peloton in the Tour de France and 2mm does not count as “spacing out.” Trailbreaking is hard work and one of the only things that makes it even harder is to have someone climbing up the back of your skis from behind, tailgating and insisting that “you are doing a great job!”

Remedy: One touch and you are out, as in out front breaking trail. This is a very effective, almost wordless way to get people to spread out.

3. The Hidden Agenda
Words you dread to hear as you are heading out on a clear, sunny, deep, beautiful day: “I don’t care where we go, but I have to be back at the car by 1:00.” This either greatly curtails the day’s plans, adds new human factors to the tour, or means the Agenda Person has to ski out on his/her own.

Remedy: Communicate before committing to the tour.

4. The Mystery Guest
A variation on the classic ski theme “just because I slept with you, doesn’t mean I’ll ski with you.” Uninvited mystery guests of dubious abilities are the responsibility of the invitee.

Remedy: “Okay, just in case we get separated today, are you two all set?”

5. Clueless Avalanche Expert
Or, “All I Ever Needed to Know About Avalanches I learned on Internet Forums.” Getting a Q2 ECT 8 on the MLK TG layer at 8k N/NE sounds very impressive, but really doesn’t mean shit in the grand scheme of things and is NOT a good reason to ski a slope.

Remedy: Beware of blowhards who insist a slope is safe. Call your own shots.

6. Skin Track Bitchin’
Yeah, well…too steep, too flat, in the wrong place, dangerous, etc. Whaaaaaa.

Remedy: Break your own.

7. Phone Phreaks
Twitter, Strava, Instagram, Facebook, Jimmy is in Silver Fork, the LCC road is closed, the LCC road is now open, do you have reception?, check out this video, dogs eating at a table, New Hampshire is getting 3″, there’s an app for that, SELFIE!

Remedy: Being born before 1995.

8. Aborted Passers
You know the dude (and it is always a dude) – they come charging up from behind with headphones blaring and instead of offering to help break trail, they swing wide, grunt, “Hey…nice day.” and then proceed to get ground to a crawl and eat shit on the trail breaking.

Remedy: Hang back 50 feet, let him flame out and then poach his line. Have a nice day!

9. Crowding at Transitions
The mountains are big places and there is no reason to stack up on top of each other at transitions. Kindergarten kids refer to it as “being in my bubble” and for backcountry skiing, the bubble is about a five-foot radius of skin ripping, pack opening, and general maneuvering. If you get your eye taken out by a skin clip, it is really your own fault.

Remedy: The obvious – spread out.

10. Postholing the Skin Track
No list would be complete without this as booting a skin track completely ruins it for everyone (except booters…) who follows. This is actually not as common as it used to be and nowadays is mainly a frontcountry phenomenon.

Remedy: Nothing. Postholers are their own worst enemies. Pity the poor fools.

Andrew McLean is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, and climber.


Showing 5 comments
  • NateK

    Suggest changing the title: “Ten Commandments of the Backcountry”
    and start every line with “Thou shalt not…”

  • Rob Means

    I nominate “Gear Fiddlers” as an incurable nightmare in the party. Layering up and down constantly, is just the tip of the iceberg. I once saw the ne-plus-ultra of fiddling: repacking the pack to get the load balance “just right”, preceeded by layering up when stopping for this monumental task and followed by two quickly-successive delayering events and a layer correction a few minutes later. Since it was a day tour of under 20 klicks, the gear-fiddler’s 65L-75L pack was just the icing on the cake, and our clue top split the group – us and him, We found him still slogging in the first 2 clicks on our way back. That was 12 years ago, he survives to this day, and has not changed a bit.

  • idahobobb

    Ski idaho and worry about none of these, sounds like a jackson thing. :;)

  • Mal

    Cutting the entire face and/or stopping for inspection at the top after dropping in , I always see this as avalanche 101 ,If you haven’t seen your line at the bottom or on the way up don’t start making it up at the top unless it calls for desperate last second measures or changes .

  • DConSkis

    Oh man, I just can’t help making this comment: PEEING on the skintrack! Are people merely animals w absolutely no control of bodily functions? Please, I beg you, take a couple steps away to do your business.

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