Top Tips for Getting into Backcountry Snowboarding or Skiing

Posted by sean on Thu, 10/11/2012 - 17:47 in

One of the joys of Sean’s Alaska expedition was the opportunity for backcountry
mountaineering. Take a tour of the eco-friendly Travel Queen RV they used on the trip
and learn how he stored his diabetes supplies and other gear.

When I say “backcountry mountaineering,” most people give me a glazed look, wondering what the heck I’m talking about. In a nutshell, this sport I love involves finding a place to snowboard “out of bounds” – and by that I mean away from resorts and cities. I climb with my own manpower on a splitboard (a snowboard that splits into skis) and then snowboard down, taking into account all of nature’s dangers, such as avalanches, glaciers, cornices (an overhanging mass of snow or ice formed by wind action), etc.

It’s a sport I’ve been doing for nearly 10 years and I’ve taken numerous courses and classes to be sure I’m qualified not only to guide myself, but to guide others in the backcountry as well. Here are a few stepping stones to navigating the sport and managing your diabetes in that environment:

Test it Out

I love backcountry snowboarding, but the bottom line is that there’s a relatively high start-up cost for the gear, so you want to be sure it’s something you’ll like to do before investing. Start by finding a local mountaineering store in a mountain town where you can take backcountry education classes. These classes are critical to ensuring you have the appropriate training for navigating backcountry terrain, especially in and around high-risk avalanche areas. Head out on the trail with an experienced guide and some rental gear. Try it once, try it twice…if it’s something you can see yourself doing again then go for it!

Partner Up and Get Informed

The best place to find a partner for the backcountry is a climbing store, where you’ll find other people with similar interests. These stores also probably offer some backcountry education classes.

Training and getting experience will not only allow you to ease into the sport, but will also allow you to really pay attention to how your diabetes reacts with the environment and to prepare for managing it during those times. For me, the Omnipod insulin pump is the perfect diabetes management system for this sport, because I never have to worry about tubing freezing—the tubeless Pod is always right up against my body heat.sean-busby-riding4-266x400

Shop Around

If you’re ready to pursue the sport, then you’re best off finding what we call a “touring setup,” which includes either a splitboard or skis with alpine touring bindings. There is usually tons of used gear available and sales if you’re willing to do a little hunting. If you’re affiliated with a business that offers pro-deals (like a summer camp or a mountain), ask them about any deals with backcountry ski/snowboard companies.

After getting the skis/splitboard, boots, bindings and poles, the next top items on your list should be:

  • An avalanche beacon (which you should be trained to use in a class)
  • Probes (expandable rods used to help aid in the location of avalanche victims)
  • A shovel
  • A backpack
  • An avalanche float backpack, which can be a lifesaving device should you get caught in a avalanche
  • An emergency locator beacon and/or satellite phone

Keep at It

Continue gaining experience through those who know what they’re doing and consider taking a few guided trips. Without sufficient education and experience in avalanche safety, and an understanding of how to use the proper avalanche rescue devices, you should not be in the backcountry. You could risk putting your life and the lives of others in danger.

Stay Safe

Always notify your teammates and guide about your diabetes so they can support you in the correct ways should you need assistance in the backcountry. You may be far from civilization and there won’t be a ski patrol around, so you must be self-sufficient in managing your diabetes in dangerous winter terrain.

The risks are high, but the rewards are even higher in backcountry mountaineering. If you determine that it’s something for you, then go for it and have fun!