Who says skiiers and snowboards need to stay between the lines?
When it comes to skiing these days, everyone seems to be heading for the hills – literally. Rising interest in backcountry ski touring driven by increasing awareness and improved equipment has sparked unprecedented attention on what lies beyond resort boundary ropes.
New this winter season, Thredbo is offering six tours for skiers and snowboarders who want to experience backcountry ski touring – and the main customers are those who have never set foot beyond the resort.
“People are just blown away by the scenery when they get out into the mountains beyond the groomed runs and regular ski fields,” says Jake Hiscock, creator of Thredbo’s backcountry tour program. “It is spectacularly beautiful out there. It really appeals to people’s sense of adventure.”
For the uninitiated, backcountry touring involves using ski or snowboard equipment for both walking uphill and riding down. Skiers use touring bindings that allow the heels of their ski boots to release, and stick ‘skins’ on their ski bases that grip on the snow and let them walk uphill. There are also wider pattern based skis now that make it easier to travel uphill more simply just like XC skiers. Before skiing the skins are removed, heels locked in, and off they go downhill. Snowboarders use split boards with a similar set up or snowshoes to climb before descending.
The pros, say proponents of the sport, far outweigh the cons. “It gets you fit, fast,” says Bruce Easton, whose Wilderness Sports operation runs backcountry lessons and tours from Perisher and other locations in Kosciuszko National Park and has been in operation since 1977. “The scenery is stunning and it’s quiet. There are no crowds on the Main Range of the Kosciusko National Park. It is all about first and fresh tracks.”
Tourers must also stay safe. Among hard fast rules are taking enough food and water for the trip, and awareness of risk factors and weather forecasts: clear days can turn to blizzard white-outs quickly. “Safety is paramount,” Jake says.
Advances in boots and bindings are a major reason backcountry ski touring touring is now so in fashion. New “cross-over” gear like Kingpin bindings and Lupo hybrid boots have made skiing and snowboarding both in and out of resort on one set of equipment safer and easier than ever.
“Sales of cross-over gear have sky-rocketed in the last few years,” says Andy Boydell from Volkl and Marker distributors Sportrade. “This kind of equipment is so easily modified now to either tour or downhill that it’s bringing these two aspects (backcountry ski touring and resort skiing) together.”
Thredbo’s new backcountry tour program in conjunction with North Face gear offers six trips designed by guide Jake Hiscock, ranging from three-hour introduction-to-backcountry trips to full day excursions for stronger skiers and snowboarders. Some travel as far as Australia’s highest point, Mt Kosciusko.
Groups are a maximum of four. This ensures first-timers receive adequate attention and intermediate to advanced groups can move fast and efficiently.
Great importance is placed on teaching mountain safety from knowing forecasts to avalanche awareness. All backcountry intro courses teach a raft of backcountry skills, from attaching skins and how touring bindings work to avoiding features never encountered in manicured ski resorts.
Tours: The introductory ‘Green Tour’ costs $135 and travels a little way beyond the resort boundary’s highest point Karel’s T-Bar to Signature Hill. The other five tours are full days, cost $220 and are designed for beginners to advanced, some travelling as far as Mt Kosciusko. thredbo.com.au
Wilderness Sports is the premier provider of guided backcountry tours, the largest provider of backcountry outdoor equipment sales, lessons, rental and more. Owner Bruce Easton has run Wilderness Sports for 30 years and is seeing a sudden spike of interest in touring from resort skiers and boarders who are realising there is a way to get out there safely. “People have been poking around the back of our ski resort boundaries for a long time and now with all this new equipment and extra guiding services they can do it properly,” he says. “Touring is definitely not the domain of a dedicated few any more. Word has spread about how fabulous it is to get out there. Plus it’s simply an Australian thing to get out and have a go.”
Tours: From Perisher, Wilderness Sports offers multiple guided backcountry tours for beginners to advanced, including multi-day tours, lessons in backcountry awareness, safety skills, instruction, introductory courses and more. The best option for newcomers is the three-hour, $117 per person ‘Back Country Introductory Turns’ trip which journeys beyond Perisher’s resort boundaries to terrain around either Paralyser or Mt Wheatley. Wilderness Sports is based in Jindabyne (the town referred to as the ‘Gateway to the Snowy Mountains’, half an hour from Perisher) and also runs a range of cross country skiing and snowshoe tours in and around Perisher. wildernesssports.com.au