Question Getting started in the backcountry

irrgent

Hard Yards
Sep 12, 2018
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Hi all,

I'm sure that I'm far from the only one trying to figure out a way to still get some turns in this season if the resorts are unable to open. I'm thinking of getting myself an AT setup and heading out on some day trips so I can still get some skiing in and time in the mountains this season. Due to social distancing and me not knowing anyone to go with however I am thinking this will probably have to be a solo activity. I'm wondering if heading out alone as a beginner is wise or if I'm better off waiting until next season to head into the backcountry (bc skiing is something I've been wanting to get into for a while).

I'm not totally new to this sort of thing, having spent a week staying at/skiing out of the Bogong Rover Chalet in the Vic high country, and a weekend snow camping trip out of Guthega (during one of the heaviest snow falls of the season). This was all on XC gear though, but I'd like to get AT gear so I can enjoy the descents as well. I've got a decent amount of other outdoor experience doing multi day bushwalking, canyoning etc as well. I'm thinking just easy day trips heading out from the Guthega car park or to somewhere like the Paralyser, possibly even skinning up in resort areas if they aren't able to open.

So should I pull the plug and see if I can grab some AT gear or is going it solo as a beginner just asking for trouble? This is all dependent on travel restrictions etc being relaxed at some point obviously.
 
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Mister Tee on XC Skis

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Hi all,

I'm sure that I'm far from the only one trying to figure out a way to still get some turns in this season if the resorts are unable to open. I'm thinking of getting myself an AT setup and heading out on some day trips so I can still get some skiing in and time in the mountains this season. Due to social distancing and me not knowing anyone to go with however I am thinking this will probably have to be a solo activity. I'm wondering if heading out alone as a beginner is wise or if I'm better off waiting until next season to head into the backcountry (bc skiing is something I've been wanting to get into for a while).

I'm not totally new to this sort of thing, having spent a week staying at/skiing out of the Bogong Rover Chalet in the Vic high country, and a weekend snow camping trip out of Guthega (during one of the heaviest snow falls of the season). This was all on XC gear though, but I'd like to get AT gear so I can enjoy the descents as well. I've got a decent amount of other outdoor experience doing multi day bushwalking, canyoning etc as well. I'm thinking just easy day trips heading out from the Guthega car park or to somewhere like the Paralyser, possibly even skinning up in resort areas if they aren't able to open.

So should I pull the plug and see if I can grab some AT gear or is going it solo as a beginner just asking for trouble? This is all dependent on travel restrictions etc being relaxed at some point obviously.
I also plan to do quite a bit of snow camping and BC XC ski touring this white season. It is always safer to do such things with at least one other person if possible. I know a number of non Nat. park /non ski resort areas where this could be done in VIC..
 

nezumi

One of Us
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You're right that this is a question that has been doing the rounds recently, and understandably so.

I am similarly considering backcountry options for this year, although it had been a Thing for me before Covid19 anyway. I have a decent understanding of the risks from my hiking time, although most of that knowledge is from half a lifetime ago and underutilised (Duke of Ed and Australian Air League rather than Scouts/Rovers, but similar enough).

You are likely to get a range of opinions - when I have suggested that people take it easy and find a group in some of the Facebook groups, this has been broadly supported, with one or two very vocal exceptions essentially saying "get out there and try, you won't learn if you don't do it!". As I understand it, the main cause of deaths in the Australian Alps is conditions rather than avalanche. What I mean by that is things like a hard icy crust and not using crampons causing a slip and fall.

My personal risk assessment says that if I can't get a group to go out with, I won't go. In terms of finding a group, there are options out there. The one I am hoping to tag along with is Mountain Sports Collective, who run a free first timer's event for members (nominal membership fee) called Slay Safe: http://mountainsportscollective.org/slay-safe-application
 

Rimey

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For your first outing, rent AT kit with tech (or pin) bindings - weight.
Wilderness Sports (Bruce) in Jindi can help.
Going solo is no problem if you pick a fine day and easy terrain.
Pick terrain with phone reception.
For my first effort I went up from DHG on the Alpine Way.
I climbed up to the Ramshead. Got a few lines on the way.
I wasn't too adventurous and stayed safe.
Had me a cold beer at the top looking out over Kosci, etc.
That was ten years ago. There were no "groups" on the internet or commercial.
Most of my outings are solo.
 
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LaNeige

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If you're thinking of heading out from Dead Horse, picking up AT gear at Harrows would work well.

And of you're looking for a group, people on here aren't too bad and are often pretty generous to those starting out. And I've also found that peeps in the BC are generally very friendly and will often ask you to join them if your solo. Of course the other half of that contract is you have to be a good 'guest'.

And there are some exceptions, like when @skifree and I joined (gate crashed) chair lift with a couple going out back (so were we). They weren't to pleased that we'd taken their backpacks seat and didn't ask us to join them.
 

piolet

Better make it three
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If you're thinking of heading out from Dead Horse, picking up AT gear at Harrows would work well.

And of you're looking for a group, people on here aren't too bad and are often pretty generous to those starting out. And I've also found that peeps in the BC are generally very friendly and will often ask you to join them if your solo. Of course the other half of that contract is you have to be a good 'guest'.

And there are some exceptions, like when @skifree and I joined (gate crashed) chair lift with a couple going out back (so were we). They weren't to pleased that we'd taken their backpacks seat and didn't ask us to join them.

Yeah DHG or even across the dam at guthega are good spots

There's certainly people on here to hook up with just bare in mind it may not always seem like it as it can be hard to have things line up but put it out there, for sure.

Do we have a hook up thread?
 

telenomore

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Lots of gear rental options in the mountains, WS and Harro's mentioned but I'd also add Rhythm in Cooma. For locations, I'd recommend Guthega Trig. Very easy navigation, mostly one big climb so you are not on and off with skins, and in mid winter can have good snow on the Guthega facing aspects.
 

Chaeron

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In Victoria Wilderness Shop in Box Hill, EMC in Deepdene, Ajays in Heathmont, Mystic Mountains Ski Hire in Narbethong and Pretty Valley ski hire in Tawonga South, Buller - Telephone Box Junction on Mt Stirling, ,Rays in Myrtleford and YMCA at Windy Corner at Falls Creek hire out telemarking gear. (not a complete list)

Not easy to find AT gear to hire though....

However, I wouldn’t necessarily hire telemark gear for my first back country trip unless I already had telemark exposure.

Easiest back country access for a beginner is out of Windy Corner, Falls Creek, probably touring over the damwall up to Heathy/ Baker Spur/ Mt Nelse, or Mt McKay and or Prety Valley and or Rocky Knolls through the resort. Good phone reception in those areas, and in recovery distance of Falls Creek.

Steeper terrain accessed from Hotham at Mt Loch, initially touring down to Wallaces Hut. Or tour from the Dinner Plain side.

Alternatively easier touring, but less downhill terrain at Mt Stirling / Stanley Bowl from Telephone Box Junction near Buller,

Also touring from Mt St Gwinear/ Baw Baw in Gippy, or Lake Mountain near Marysville or Mt Buffalo out of Myrtleford. Some cross-country skiers do trail-based expeditions on Baw Baw, St Gwinear, Lake Mountain, Buffalo, Falls, Dinner Plain.

Unless one has prior experience and is touring with a partner, someone who knows the terrain Feathertop, Bogong, open expanse of Bogong High Plains, Nelse, Fainters etcetera best left for subsequent trips.

Even for a day trip It’s worth buying/ hiring a PLB and travelling with a GPS and compass, and carrying a large space blanket/ light bivvy and extra food.

Adequate hard shell pants and jacket, PLUS additional insulation gear - down jacket, change of gloves, hand warmers, face protection (balaclava) are a must.

For an intermediate skier who has outdoor winter hiking experience and common sense, and who keeps to fine weather days, a loop out of a resort is a very viable introduction.

In Vic touring towards a hut and back out of a resort isn’t a bad idea for an initial BC exploration.
 

skifree

A disciple of the blessed avi giraffe
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PAW

Hard Yards
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NSW NPWS at Jindabyne loan out personal locator beacons (PLB) free of charge (as long as you return it!). No idea if that's the case in Victoria.
The process takes a while, and makes for a later-than-ideal start IMO. Not sure what the hire cost is.
The time we did hire from WS and tried to register our trip intention, the police weren't interested and NPWS wasn't open (and there was no online registration option, don't know if this year that has changed).
So ended up buying a PLB, saves time and can do trip intention etc from comfort of home online. Cost $300ish, battery last 10 years, not that expensive in the long run.
 

Rimey

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Jan 28, 2010
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The modest end of the Great Divide

First BC outing ...
Stubbie's cooling in the snow by the pack.
Gear rental by Bruce.
September 2009. Clear blue, still, snow cold, thanks Hughey.

010 Kosci View.jpg


My line off The Ramshead
012 Middle Ramshead Tracks.jpg
 
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dawooduck

relaxed and comfortable
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Start with .... (NSW)

Blue Cow to Guthega
Paralyser
Signature Hill
Mount Wheatly
Mt Stirling
Farm Creek
Ramshead to DHG

Then find some companions for:

Tate Ridge
Leather Barrel
Twin Valleys
Kosciusko Ridge
Twynam
Everywhere else

Make sure you can ski downhill in all conditions in control, read the weather, a compass, the terrain and a map in a white out.

Enjoy.
 

Ziggy

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Aug 24, 2003
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There's a range of knowledge and skills involved in safely and efficiently travelling on skis. That's why it's best not to make it up as you go or learn from those who have. The mountains host numbers of people who just bushwalk on skis.
Skis are a tool. Invest in learning to wield them.
Get some lessons. Go out with a guide.
 

Fozzie Bear

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"Ski resorts may not open so I'm thinking of taking up AT skiing"

@irrgent If the only reason you haven't thought of going skiing under your own power before is because the resorts may be closed and that is the only way you are going to get your skiing fix, then self powered sliding is more than likely not for you. There are a couple of reasons why there are less people in the backcountry:

Getting there is hard work;
The environment is dangerous and there is no ski patrol to scrape you up if you stuff up;
Virtually all your existing gear (excepting beanie and goggles) doesn't work well (or at all) in the backcountry;
The gear you need is specialised and far more expensive that what you already have.

You may be familiar with some of this having done some x-c and snow camping.
That said, if you are serious, there are quite a few here happy to drag you out and see where your breaking point is :thumbs:
 

skull

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THanks for the links to the different tours. I think I might try and suss them out, better off paying for a tour then doing stuff solo for me.
 
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irrgent

Hard Yards
Sep 12, 2018
17
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53
"Ski resorts may not open so I'm thinking of taking up AT skiing"

@irrgent If the only reason you haven't thought of going skiing under your own power before is because the resorts may be closed and that is the only way you are going to get your skiing fix, then self powered sliding is more than likely not for you. There are a couple of reasons why there are less people in the backcountry:

Getting there is hard work;
The environment is dangerous and there is no ski patrol to scrape you up if you stuff up;
Virtually all your existing gear (excepting beanie and goggles) doesn't work well (or at all) in the backcountry;
The gear you need is specialised and far more expensive that what you already have.

You may be familiar with some of this having done some x-c and snow camping.
That said, if you are serious, there are quite a few here happy to drag you out and see where your breaking point is :thumbs:

I 100% understand all of that and am under no illusions that I will be skiing the same way as I do in the resort, both in terms of climbing mountains being hard work and not being able to push the envelope too much on the way down for safety reasons. I'm happy challenging myself on the way up as well as on the way down and am not afraid of a bit of type 2 fun. As I said before I've been wanting to start skiing in the backcountry for a few years now, so hopefully current circumstances can act as a bit of a catalyst and I finally get out there this season (even if resorts do end up opening).

I obviously need skis, boots and poles but am happy to rent or even to just fork out and buy them. I enjoyed my XC trips so am fairly confident I will enjoy heading out with AT gear. Otherwise I think I have the basic gear sorted (layered clothing, PLB, pack etc).
 

piolet

Better make it three
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As someone else who is just getting started in the backcountry, what would be the best map to get for NSW? It seems there are a few options to choose from
I used to like the old sutmap. Covered the main range areas of interest nicely. Dusted it off the other day actually
 

skifree

A disciple of the blessed avi giraffe
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As someone else who is just getting started in the backcountry, what would be the best map to get for NSW? It seems there are a few options to choose from
Anything that looks pretty.

Seriously, you’ll take a while to work out what suits you.

Try the Sutmaps first, nicely thought out & field sized. The only downside for me is 40K is an odd scale being brought up on 1/4 million WAC charts then Guvment 25K maps for the Flinders, Tas & Kosi.

For Kosi /Main Range I use the Guvment 25Ks.
 

Lord Back Country

Hard Yards
Jun 30, 2015
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For your first NSW trip I'd suggest going from the Guthega Power Station out to Horse Camp Hut, Whites River Hut or the Schlink Hilton depending on your fitness and available time.

The first km is a bit unrelenting, but it's a pretty safe trail, hard to get lost and is actually just gorgeous.

Can be a bit 'busy', but there is a reason for that...

cheers
 

Chaeron

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I have the Kosciusko Alpine Area - Spatial Vision 1:50 000 map in hard copy and also have it as a soft copy on the Avenza Map App on iPad/ iPhone.

“The main map covers an area from Khancoban in the west to Jindabyne in the east, and includes the major ski resorts of Perisher, Thredbo and Charlotte Pass. On the reverse, the map area extends northward to include the Jagungal Wilderness Area, noted for its wilderness bushwalking experience.”

I have the Freeware Shonky Maps version of Geoscience Australia maps on my GPS: https://shonkylogic.net/
 

Bogong

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As someone else who is just getting started in the backcountry, what would be the best map to get for NSW? It seems there are a few options to choose from
In the decade or so that I ran package hiking tours, I did several trips based out of Thredbo lodges. Naturally we had every map of the Main Range area that we could get our hands on. The unanimous favourite for me and all the guides on those trips was the SutMap. It covered just the right area, it was accurate and field checked (unlike government maps) and was easy to read and understand, which made it ideal for showing people the routes of the dozen or so walks we were doing on each four day trip (people could choose from an easy, medium or hard rated walk each day).

The Rooftop maps were also useful as they showed some footpads, tracks and 4WD roads not shown on other maps, but the SutMap was by far the best overall map.
 

nfip

Cold 'n Rusty
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As someone else who is just getting started in the backcountry, what would be the best map to get for NSW? It seems there are a few options to choose from

not direct answer to your question , but just sharing a couple of good resource here will keep you occupied for a while.
click on learn for more options.
https://www.avalanche.ca/tutorial

Intro tours and training with these guys and gurls.... "when all this shit is over"
https://www.alpineaccess.com.au/
semi-interesting blog in there from some punter too ;)
 

Moondog55

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If you have CC skied than you know the drill.
Sounds like you already have a decent set of LW/UL survival and storm gear
I can't ski for nuts but the people who say that the most important thing is getting the weight as low as affordable are right on the money. Go as light as you can afford to buy and the uphills will be more enjoyable for sure
 

sidetrack

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My 2 cents, solo is fine if the weather is good when you are gaining experience. Don't let people put you off, 90% of my stuff is solo. Also don’t let all the avalanche people scare you it’s a very small issue in Oz. Worry about ice. All the people I have known that have died have been victims of ice. ☹️
 

bluestick

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My 2 cents, solo is fine if the weather is good when you are gaining experience. Don't let people put you off, 90% of my stuff is solo. Also don’t let all the avalanche people scare you it’s a very small issue in Oz. Worry about ice. All the people I have known that have died have been victims of ice. ☹️
Same for me , ice is dicey and the big issue in Aus. Avalanche danger needs awareness but mostly it’s a minor consideration compared to other places. Seen a coupla deaths and bad slides with Ice. Just be very aware, when it’s really firm, of the runouts and basic self arrest technique or avoid altogether. Firm snow makes covering easy terrain very quick though.
 

Rimey

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Same for me , ice is dicey and the big issue in Aus. Avalanche danger needs awareness but mostly it’s a minor consideration compared to other places. Seen a coupla deaths and bad slides with Ice. Just be very aware, when it’s really firm, of the runouts and basic self arrest technique or avoid altogether. Firm snow makes covering easy terrain very quick though.

Generally agree. In AUS Ice can be a biggie with the consequences of the terrain you can slide down ...
Avi danger here is big wind loading on ridges and solar effected (north facing) slopes of over 30 degrees.
So dangers are prevalent post big storm/dump events and in spring when the sun starts baking.
An educated read of Bruce Tremper's book will give much awareness.
 

nfip

Cold 'n Rusty
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My 2 cents, solo is fine if the weather is good when you are gaining experience. Don't let people put you off, 90% of my stuff is solo. Also don’t let all the avalanche people scare you it’s a very small issue in Oz. Worry about ice. All the people I have known that have died have been victims of ice. ☹️
fwiw I wasnt trying to scare anyone.
my aim was simply to share a top shelf resource that may well come in handy for general knowledge and awareness.
also an excellent training organisation locally for intro tours if her confidence and ability is not a strong as others
most people here will / do venture OS ,
and further from that into the bc (side country = same) when OS down the track.
Agreed that ice, and more so from my own experience re-freezing / crusty late arvo snowpack is more of an issue.
 

Belly

A Local
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My Vic solo progression many years ago:
- St Gwinear; practice your navigation basically can't get lost, learn your gear. Can be some fun super short runs off the summit and then back down the home trail.
- Stirling; similar above but starting to touch high alpine. Stanley's on the right day is enough to keep anyone happy.
- Then I went to Bogong and Feathertop to avoid resort fee's. But that might be a little different this year so that opens up more resort / razorback type options on the cheap.

If you have experienced crew then you can fast track my more risk adverse progression experience. But as @telecrag said I'm alive!

Lastly, I'm a boarder but I like the discussion above around downhill skill level. IMO you have to be advanced in resort terms once you go above the tree line. Conditions are just too variable in Aus. Those that have been on here a long time know of 1 particular fateful Feathertop experience and whilst I never had the pleasure of meeting Graeme personally he clearly knew his stuff.
 

Ziggy

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I'm not totally new to this sort of thing, having spent a week staying at/skiing out of the Bogong Rover Chalet in the Vic high country, and a weekend snow camping trip out of Guthega (during one of the heaviest snow falls of the season). This was all on XC gear though, but I'd like to get AT gear so I can enjoy the descents as well.
You may have been on skinny skis with the Rovers but more likely Guides/Annums which are perfectly capable of turns. You would've seen few if any of the Rovers in AT gear, for a reason.

75mm/NNN-BC/NTN are like walking or jogging in shoes, not AT buckets, given the bellows that allow the foot to bend at the ball.

Pattern bases have a lot to recommend them in the typical rolling hills Australia offers. Skins are a pain but they pay off when you spend your days in big mountain play.
 
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