Don’t Wait ’til Next Season to Tour

I think I’m going to start touring next season.

Seems like a super reasonable statement, but here’s a list of reasons why you should definitely change your mind and start ski touring now:

  • Fewer avalanche risks. By the time you get your new gear and wait half an eon for an overwhelmed ski shop to get it mounted and take it for a quick spin in the resorts, it’s going to be full on winter. Mid-winter’s the riskiest time for backcountry travel, so while you’re trying to figure out how to get your bindings in to skin-mode and sort through a layering system and  navigating your stomping grounds in the winter, you’re also trying to assess more complicated snow pack. Colorado Avalanche Information Center gathers data for avalanche events and the graph below shows ski touring fatalities by month. Getting geared up through March and out in late April and May helps simplify some of the risks so you can focus on all the other parts of the learning curve. Definitely take your AIARE in that January/February window, though. You’re bound to have some real problems in your snow pack that you can observe and discuss in class.

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  • Gear is cheap. Gear starts going on sale in late February and tends to run out by mid-April. Prices are generally 15-35% off, and include some great skis for a first setup. (My first ones were a pair of Dynastar Chams, and I just moved up to a larger Line Pandora 95. I also loved the Nordica Santa Ana 93s, Salomon Lux, and Atomic Backland 102 as intermediate-advanced skis from a recent demo day). 20% off might not seem like a huge discount, but when you add up the cost of skis, skins, boots, bindings, and all of your avalanche safety gear, it’ll save you close to $500.
  • Days are warmer. And in that same vain:
  • Days are longer. There’s less risk if something goes wrong. A few weeks ago, we were up on the Muir snowfield getting ready to ski down, and my new friend David was having issues with his newly mounted setup. Someone at the shop had mounted his heel-piece slightly off center and his boot popped out anytime he tried to turn. We sat up there a bit and tested swapping the janky ski to the other side and talking through whether he wanted to walk down or risk his ACL by locking in his toe-piece. I got a little chilly. But if it had been January, we would’ve been extremely concerned about whether he’d have to hike down in the dark, navigating by headlamp, dealing with a big drop in temperatures, making it back before the gates closed at 5 and whether we could stay warm in our cars overnight. If things are going to go wrong, I want it to happen when the sun’s out and the glacier is warm and the only thing I’m risking by helping is a little bit of extra sunburn on the bottom of my nose.
  • There are more options. As things melt out, your options for moderate terrain increase. As much as I love Paradise and Kendall Knob, it’s nice to have more options. If I really wanted to ski the same zones over and over, I’d head to the resort. Getting your skis under you in the spring means you’re ready to take on bigger challenges and really make the most of your “first” season next winter.

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