I was having a conversation with an industry guy yesterday, and we started pondering what’s fueled the massive popularity increase in “sidecountry” skiing. Meaning using ski lifts or other mechanized means for access and part or all of the day’s vertical gain, but pursuing natural snow rather than staying in-bounds at the resort. We came up with this list in order of importance. Any of you esteemed WildSnowers care to contribute? Please comment with your ideas.
1. Access, as in many world class resorts now allowing easy open boundary access to sidecountry. Jackson, Aspen, Whistler, and so on.
2. Change in ski culture and style, emphasizing natural snow experience and freedom, change began in 1980s.
3. EQUIPMENT: Skis that make varied conditions easier for average expert skiers, and even make it possible for less than expert skiers to come back with some completed turns and photos thereof. Bindings that make gaining human powered vertical much easier then older technology, and can cross over to in-bounds skiing thus allowing sidecountry skiers to go with “one rig.”
4. Explosion in communication such as user generated video, which feeds the human nature impulse to brag, and for people to follow behind the leaders.
5. Ever more influence from European ski culture that’s never known boundaries.
6. Post modern culture that tends to look for deeper or even spiritual meaning in intense earthly athletic experience.
7. Better clothing that keeps skiers much more comfortable and safe while engaged in multiple activities.
8. Critical mass of skiers who have knowledge and put in access tracks, allowing other less experienced skiers to find their way (at least most of the time).
9. Media promotion of sidecountry and backcountry, number 9 to Lou because he believes the media usually follows rather than leads. But, perhaps the media is more influential than Lou likes to admit?
10. Better reporting of avalanche hazard, and participants have more knowledge of hazard avoidance. They know when they can go and when not to, while in former days it was just “go out there and you’ll probably die.”
WildSnowers, your thoughts?
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.