Translating one’s snowboarding into the backcountry for the first time can seem like a daunting task. The risk of injuries, avalanches or even getting lost or stranded are higher than other forms of snowboarding. Being prepared with the right equipment is essential to your safety and level of enjoyment. Some of these tools are the basic must haves. Other items are luxuries. collectively they are the ideal foundation for any backcountry mission.
The Bare Minimum: Backpack, Beacon, Collapsible Shovel and Probe
The moderately informed rider knows the first thing you need when venturing into the backcountry is safety gear. All the top pros use these items and only a brain dead kook would find themselves in the backcountry without this safety net. These should be the first thing you buy and the first thing you pack when thinking about going into the wilderness.
- Nice big sack – Photo: Will Mayo
The need for a pack is straightforward. All your pack really needs as far as features is a big main pocket to put all your stuff in so that you don’t lose anything when you fall into a tree well or take your first tomahawk.
- The three items you cant live without – Photo: Will Mayo
The other 3: Beacon, Shovel and Probe, should be considered the holy trinity of snowy survival equipment. Just like in the streets it takes a team of people to effectively harness the gnarness of the backcountry. These are the tools that you will use to save your buddies life and we keep them around as part of the heard’s safety. This serves to emphasise the point which is true across the board with backcountry riding: you are responsible for the lives of others out there, not just your own.
There are training courses and avalanche safety certifications offered all over the globe in various regions. Find one and get properly educated before you get out there. Basically speaking though, the beacon is for locating your friends beacon when he or she is buried under snow. The probe is for you to poke around to confirm they are there and how deep they are. The shovel is to dig them out. The avy shovel also serves to help you build a kickers too.
The cheapest option, aside from fortuitously post-holing your way through waist deep pow, is the snowshoe. They fit on your boots and you can carry your board on your back. When you get to the top of your run just throw your snow shoes in your bag and strap in! It’s easy, and you can even rent these in most snowy destinations.
Now we are getting into the expensive part. Split boards are not cheap, but they are cheaper than other motorised alternatives. Plus with a splitboard you’ll get the added endurance training, exercise and some say a greater feel of accomplishment. “Earning your turns” is a common phrase to describe that you work hard for every run instead of just taking a lift or sled to the top.
- I know, I know… it looks like skis, but trust me… its a snowboard – Photo: Will Mayo
Sure, the sled seems easy but some of us don’t want easy. Some want that feeling of actually climbing the mountain to go with its descent. It’s also easier and faster than snowshoeing. Whatever your justification, when you split you will need a board complete with special bindings, skins, collapsible poles and the willingness to be caught in photos looking like you’re skiing.
The Money Pit (AKA Sled, Snowmachine, Heap of $#!+ or Snowmobile)
We have all seen and imagined the fun you can have on a sled. But be warned this could turn into a whole other sport for you and not just a means to snowboard. Especially when you consider the 10’s of thousands of dollars you are going to invest in this thing (hence the term money pit). They break down, they use up gas, they need regular maintenance, the list of reasons not to sled is long and formidable.
- Ian McLeod showing us the definition of Brrrrap – Photo: Conor Toumarkine
However, you only need one good reason to have a sled. That reason could be the feeling of blasting into the wilderness with the same ease as you experience while driving your car. “Oh, I want to be over there now…” Boom you’re there, it’s that easy. Well, most of the time it’s that easy. Sometimes you roll it and have to dig it out, or it breaks… money pit.
Accessories and Extras
When filling the rest of you pack, weight is obviously a big consideration. These are the items that you should consider first before packing that sixer of cold ones.
- Food and Water – because the struggle is real when you’re dehydrated and hungry
- Hat / Sunglasses / Sunscreen – stay comfy even when you’re not riding/sledding
- Extra Socks – this needs no explanation
- Extra layers – it might get worse than you think out there
- Bluetooth speaker – keep the boys and girls happy with some beats when your building the jump
- Portable Power Supply – these battery packs can charge your phone, Gopro or anything with a USB charger on the fly. Could come in handy if your phones dying and you need help too!
- Ok now throw the beers in!
- You know… just some other stuff – Photo: Will Mayo
However you pack your bag or travel into the woods make sure you remember to enjoy the finer points of backcountry snowboarding. Deep turns all the way on your back leg and getting a big pile of snow down your pants when you flip over are definitely better than waiting in lift lines.