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Question Off piste vs back country vs out of bounds - getting started

Discussion in 'Snow Talk' started by Shoey, Jul 21, 2019.

  1. Shoey

    Shoey Hard Yards

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    Background Context: My wife and I are upper intermediates, have about 20wks experience over 8yrs under our belt, but only done runs - groomed & ungroomed of all colors in the European Alps. We are keen to move to the next step and start exploring outside, esp with Japan round the corner now that we are based back in Oz.

    I want to get an understanding of off-piste vs back-country vs out-of-bounds, and what we need for each. My rudimentary understanding from reading http://mountainacademy.salomon.com/en/demo/18/what-is-off-piste, off-piste is everything that starts even a meter outside marked runs, but that would still be in bounds. i.e. sometimes a bowl might have two or three runs going down in parallel and skiing between them is technically off piste but in bounds. Likewise, skiing thru the trees dividing two runs means the same. There could be avalanche risk (practically, not a large one?), but ski patrolled and generally you don't need to be geared up or hire a guide.

    By contrast, back-country / out-of-bounds is literally outside of the map/perimeter of the resort and you'd definitely need a guide and be prepped with beacon/shovel/probe.

    What would the 'gates' in the Japan resorts be considered as?

    And what's the best way to get started? We are considering getting an instructor, and in additional to learning the ski techniques we'd want to learn a bit about mountaincraft, i.e learning how the snowpack varies with the time, direction, spotting risks etc.
     
  2. Slowman

    Slowman One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    If you are visiting Thredbo you could try the introductory backcountry sessions you will find on their web page. There is also a backcountry touring business based in the Guthega Centre. Alternatively you could book a guide through K7 Adventures. You can hire touring gear through all of these. Some tuition and guiding is a very good way to start off.
     
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  3. Rick Ross Da Boss

    Rick Ross Da Boss One of Us

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    Outside the map perimeter imo is side country, everything that doesn’t exist on a resort map or in the vicinity of a resort is backcountry IMO
     
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  4. Moondog55

    Moondog55 One of Us

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    Ski skills aside do you have any or much camping experience and any winter camping gear? BC there is always a risk of being stuck out and some other basic gear that is always carried is part of what you need to acquire and always carry.
    Speaking as a bushwalker who skis and not as a skier who camps.
     
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  5. nezumi

    nezumi One of Us

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    I like the term "lift accessed backcountry" for this, rather than sidecountry, to emphasise that the risks of sidecountry are no less than that of other backcountry: http://www.nytimes.com/projects/2012/snow-fall/index.html#/?part=tunnel-creek
     
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  6. dawooduck

    dawooduck relaxed and comfortable Ski Pass: Gold

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    With the exceptional rare occurrence, getting lost or injured are the #1 Australia side and back country risks so .... ski skills + navigation skills before over the counter "BC safety" purchases.

    Weather and slipping on ice will bring you undone long before a beacon and probe are mandated.
     
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  7. sly_karma

    sly_karma Old n' Crusty Ski Pass: Gold

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    You correctly identified off-piste as anything off a groomed run. Before heading outside resort boundaries, you need to adapt your basic skills for the ungroomed snow and terrain, and log some solid mileage to solidify this. I'd say the best way to get this going is to take some advanced training sessions in Australia this season. Instructors will all be good English speakers and the off piste snow conditions will be as or more challenging as you'll find anywhere else in the world (except Scotland; do not go there). The emphasis in the training should be on developing really strong basic skills (stance & balance, turn shape) and then on adapting those skills for varying terrain and snow types. Heading out into the shmoo will not go well if your on-piste skills aren't solid. The difference in snow feel and rapid changes in terrain will be overwhelming if you don't have a really good grip on the basics.

    1. take an advanced course - a 5-7 day session would be best, daily repetition and reinforcement needed for progress that is retained long term.
    2. resort skiing with a clear focus on the off piste. Practice what you learned in the training course - expand your comfort zone to include steeps, bumps, trees, sloppy snow, icy snow, etc.
    3. take a refresher lesson or two to review and/or re-centre.
    4. try heading outside resort boundaries on low angle 'side country' terrain.
    5. consider true back country skiing, based on growing confidence on all snow types. Now you can think about purchase of needed equipment. By this time you've probably made connections for a group tour 'out back'. Or of course develop these connections on this forum.
     
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  8. Ziggy

    Ziggy A Local Ski Pass: Gold

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  9. LMB

    LMB Old but definitely not Crusty! Ski Pass: Gold

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    Good on you for asking the questions.
    Shows you’re thinking about it and taking your safety seriously.

    The gates are a way to minimise risk to the resort by people skiing the attached backcountry. Rather than a free for all, enter wherever you like, they have strategically placed reasonably narrow access points that you must intentionally go through to get out there. It is an acknowledgment of the risks of riding the terrain when you pass through the gate.

    If there weren’t gates you’d find people ducking in and out of bc areas all over the mountain and quite potentially being followed out by someone without the ability to handle the terrain.

    But it is still back country, albeit slackly acquired via lifts, and albeit often fairly heavily tracked.

    Good guides will not only lead you safely through bc terrain, they’ll teach skills on the way, they should be talking through their decision making so you are beginning to understand the process rather than just follow.

    Courses are good. Not just ski development and Avy Courses but mountaineering skills really help also. It takes time to acquire these things and that shouldn’t stop you progressively stepping out in line with your skill level. You consolidate any classroom or book acquired knowledge by doing. Until you feel comfortable that you can make safe decisions out there, hire a guide.

    There are also some gates that are safer than others - if you’re in Hirafu you’ll see a lot of people stepping out the gates with no backpack/beacon. I don’t recommend this however there are a few gates that are more like your description of “off piste” - and if there has been no fresh snow are so packed out there’s no need of Avy equipment. But the best advice is to take it anyway. Get used to riding/skiing with it so it’s not an uncomfortable thing when you need to wear it.
     
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  10. climberman

    climberman CloudRide1000 Legend Ski Pass: Gold

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    I can’t agree with this enough.
     
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  11. Red_switch

    Red_switch Old n' Crusty Ski Pass: 30 Day

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    There is no such thing as side country.
     
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  12. Team Weasel

    Team Weasel One of Us

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    You can do this. Or you could invest in courses that will give you the skills and tools you'll need to be independent. Some people don't want that - it's basically like doing a PhD, and at the end you are still responsible for your own safety, which for some people isn't fun. It's really up to you how you want to get into the BC, but I just wanted to say that guided is not the only way.

    I reckon having solid bushwalking skills and decent fitness is a start. I used to be an alpine climber, and having those skills is definitely helpful - doing a 2 week course in NZ would give you the skills you need to climb anything you can ski down. Add in a couple of Avalanche courses, and maybe a wilderness first aid, and you no longer have to suckle on the guide teat.

    This can't be said enough for Australian BC. The avalanche gear gets used maybe half a dozen days here. Whippets and crampons are ever present for me.
     
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  13. smackies

    smackies A Local

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    Figure out how many mini snickers you can eat in a day. Pack double.
     
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  14. climberman

    climberman CloudRide1000 Legend Ski Pass: Gold

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    Or you could just get some gear and go and do it. It’s how every. single. person. who started doing this before 2012 did it. Like all adventure sports, start easy so that your mistakes are recoverable.
     
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  15. climberman

    climberman CloudRide1000 Legend Ski Pass: Gold

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    Or you could just get some gear and go and do it. It’s how every. single. person. who started doing this before 2012 did it. Like all adventure sports, start easy so that your mistakes are recoverable.
     
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  16. climberman

    climberman CloudRide1000 Legend Ski Pass: Gold

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    THIS is my kind of advice!
     
  17. cornice11

    cornice11 One of Us

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    make sure you like walking uphill. a lot of people find they dont like it as they dont get enough downhill. its not about charging downhill like resort skiing is.
     
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  18. Red_switch

    Red_switch Old n' Crusty Ski Pass: 30 Day

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    Yep, and a couple of useful bibles to assist:
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
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  19. LMB

    LMB Old but definitely not Crusty! Ski Pass: Gold

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    I have the bottom one.
    Great resource.
     
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  20. sbm_

    sbm_ One of Us Ski Pass: Silver

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    I always like to suggest some traditional cross-country skiing as well. Out of Perisher in NSW, and I suppose Falls or Hotham in vic (Buffalo up towards the Horn is also very pretty, if there is snow). The gear hire is cheap and you can a surprisingly big and adventurous day out on marked routes. It's great for your balance and general skiing skills (it will improve your downhill as well). At Perisher the XC building is also an excellent day facility with a kitchen etc.

    Learning the ins and outs of wild snow (both from a safety perspective of ice and avalanche, and also just for finding good skiing) is a lifetime of learning. Aspect (sunny vs shaded, morning sun vs afternoon sun) is vital. Temperature and cloud cover affect it. The prevailing wind and where wind drifts and wind scoured areas form. Slope angle too. A compass and slope angle meter are two of the best gadgets you can have and they're cheap. (Slope angle meter is handy for bragging rights too)

    You can start reading avalanche forecasts. Safety aside, once you begin to understand them they usually give you by FAR the most comprehensive and objectively neutral snow reports, that will eventually give you a much better idea than ski resort snow reports.
     
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  21. Fozzie Bear

    Fozzie Bear One of Us Ski Pass: Gold

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    This. Pretty much all of us started this way.... and with input and assistance from others here. Do a taste. If you like it, dive in. And as mentioned, some find the effort to skiing ratio all wrong and don't continue. You do need to like type II fun.
     
    #21 Fozzie Bear, Jul 22, 2019
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2019
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  22. LDJ

    LDJ One of Us Ski Pass: Silver

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    This is great advice for Japan. There is a massive difference in gates across different resorts and even areas of the same resort. For example at Okushigakogen there are a couple of gates you could go through without the gear and some I definitely would not mainly due to terrain traps and being funnelled into deep creek. I always have the gear and hopefully will never need it. Definitely speak to locals about the risks. I found the AST1 course a good starter for learning risk, snowpack, lines etc. 2 days and they run courses in Jindy & Vic. I will be doing further preparation and training when time allows.
     
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  23. Moondog55

    Moondog55 One of Us

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    Yep This is how I started bushwalking on skis, bought some cheap gear and just did it. Fell over a lot. Then fell over some more I still can't ski but I don't fall over so much any more.
     
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  24. Belly

    Belly A Local Ski Pass: Gold

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    A good beginner TR just went up from Laska
     
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  25. climberman

    climberman CloudRide1000 Legend Ski Pass: Gold

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    And be ok with the occasional Type III LOL
     
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  26. Kletterer

    Kletterer Thredbo Doughnut Tragic Moderator Ski Pass: Gold

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    Heading out also means bigger fluctuations in energy output/ body heat. A method of adjusting layering in clothing to suit activity becomes an integral part of comfort and safety.
     
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  27. Rick Ross Da Boss

    Rick Ross Da Boss One of Us

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    Oh gawd :rolleyes:
     
  28. LMB

    LMB Old but definitely not Crusty! Ski Pass: Gold

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    Hell yes!
    Shell with layers for the win.
    Lightweight down in the pack in case it turns or you get stuck.
     
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  29. Shoey

    Shoey Hard Yards

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    Wow thanks for the wave of responses! I need to digest through it and will come back with more followup questions :)
     
  30. kylep

    kylep Cage rattler Ski Pass: Gold

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    Read everything. (not quite) but it's been great for me just reading and talking to forum members over the years to pick up a lot of this stuff. I still haven't done anything properly out there, but between experiences and reading here, I've got a much greater awareness when I do a little exploring. Part of starting to ski as well as snowboarding is to increase my ability to get out there in a real way 'some day'.
     
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  31. DPS Driver

    DPS Driver One of Us

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    Points for asking the question. That shows more about your temperament and risk profile than you might think.

    Read. Look for friends who are skilled in BC travel and ask to tag along. Learning on the boards is invaluable. Get out there on low risk missions and see if you like it and if so then look for a proper BC / avalanche training course.

    Question everything you do and every decision you make. Retrospect is a great thing, provided you're alive to benefit from it. Fark, I've made so many mistakes in the BC but luckily they were made on low risk ventures. However in retrospect, phew.

    Respect the mountains keep your hubris in check and keep your ears and eyes open. Enjoy.
     
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  32. kylep

    kylep Cage rattler Ski Pass: Gold

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    I'll add, based on off-piste in-bounds experience and one of the concepts the BC crew and training tells you. Don't let a less cautious mate/partner/etc careless attitude lead you into risky situations. Check each other's reasoning and assessment and don't be so focused on avalanche that you forget all the other risks that might not be as media-hyped but very real. Creeks, buried obstacles, cracks/holes etc. Just reading the in-resort reports in the last week there's been people talking about these terrain issues
     
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  33. climberman

    climberman CloudRide1000 Legend Ski Pass: Gold

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    All this risk assessment advice is fine, but as you’ve never been, you have no idea of the risks. Ya don’t know what ya don’t know.

    Just always think ‘if something goes wrong here, how will I get home?’ about every 7 minutes of your trip.
     
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  34. Belly

    Belly A Local Ski Pass: Gold

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    Navigating on top of Bogong solo in a white out is character defining. Doing on top of Twynam with @BrianWilson was kind of fun :)
     
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  35. Ziggy

    Ziggy A Local Ski Pass: Gold

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    Skiing in a white-out is good for your skills. You have to ski with your body, not your mind, letting your knees work as shock absorbers.
    You might see a change in the shade of grey ahead of you but you don't know whether that means a rise or a drop in the snow surface.
    You hang loose.
    You might be rewarded with a bum plant, a face plant or a smooth ride.
     
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  36. Ziggy

    Ziggy A Local Ski Pass: Gold

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    I don't recommend going out with others unless they're experienced and skilled.
    The apprenticeship model is fine if the master knows what they're doing.
     
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  37. Hermannator

    Hermannator One of Us Ski Pass: Silver

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  38. tcornall

    tcornall Early Days

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    Some musings regarding things to consider even before you worry about skiing down challenging slopes.
    Be prepared to sleep in the snow. Or at least take shelter to wait out the weather, possibly for days.
    I think that one of the biggest things to consider in the BC is that you often can't retreat to safety and comfort easily. And sometimes it's the things like a broken binding or lost ski that turns a day-trip into an epic.
    When it comes to multi-day trips and being prepared for unintentional overnightings, your gear is very important.
    Make sure you like your boots... and that your boots like you. Similarly for skis/stocks/outer and inner layers, tents, bivvy bags, sleeping bag, backpack, sleeping mat, stove, food strategy, headgear, facegear, goggles, inner and outer gloves, navigational equipment etc, etc.
    Learn how to use a GPS and always carry one. Compass and maps as backups. Practice using the GPS and the maps in 'inclement' weather. (Did you know its really hard to navigate by landmarks when you can't see any? Having the GPS to tell you where you are is essential. Having to guess which ridge you are heading down is a recipe for disaster.)
    Carry an EPIRB/PLB and know how to deploy it. (Preferably one of the new ones that also sends GPS location info)
    Experience and survive a screaming blizzard plus whiteout whilst navigationally-embarrassed with an exhausted/hypothermic-self/companion.
    Dig a snowcave. Know how to do it safely. Sleep in a bivvy-bag (and always carry one). Wake up in a tent on the snow to a beautiful sunny day.... or yet another whited-out screaming monster of a blizzard.
    And do all that on low-angle terrain even before you get to the exciting stuff.
    Terry
     
    #38 tcornall, Jul 23, 2019
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2019
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  39. LMB

    LMB Old but definitely not Crusty! Ski Pass: Gold

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    Unless everyone is on the same page and sticking with low risk, within skill set activities.

    A group of highly experienced people no one voicing concern thinking that everyone else is more experienced than them and they’re not speaking up so must be overreacting can be more dangerous than a group of relative newbies talking every step out and erring on the side of caution.
    Riding by Braille.
    When you can laugh when you’re in that situation you know you’re skiing well.
     
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  40. nezumi

    nezumi One of Us

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    I thought the "skiing with whole body" thing was all about not using your knees? :D :out:
     
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  41. tcornall

    tcornall Early Days

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    Once or twice I've been skiing in a white-out and have seen rocks overtaking me. The first time I fell over in surprise. Now it just makes me laugh.
     
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  42. Ziggy

    Ziggy A Local Ski Pass: Gold

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    Sure. The wrinkle is the unpredictability.
     
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  43. nezumi

    nezumi One of Us

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    Perfect example of the "experienced group with too much confidence" scenario: https://www.avalanche.ca/cherry-bowl/#/intro
     
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  44. tcornall

    tcornall Early Days

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    Make sure you have ambulance insurance. Air evac is expensive in Oz if you don't.
    If doing this overseas find out about their Mountain Search and Rescue policies and potential costs.
    Be aware that run-of-the-mill travel insurance probably explicitly excludes 'risky activities' such as off-piste (or even on-piste) skiing.
    Be aware that when you put yourself at risk you also involve your companions, and potentially lots of other people who may have to rescue you. (It takes a lot of people to get someone down a mountain)
    Terry
     
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  45. Rick Ross Da Boss

    Rick Ross Da Boss One of Us

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    Arr yes, the good old cherry bowl clip. Gets a run at most backcountry event/evenings
     
  46. Rick Ross Da Boss

    Rick Ross Da Boss One of Us

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    A lot of doom and gloom here, do your research, educate yourself, get the right gear for the job and you’ll have a blast and wonder why you didn’t get out there earlier!!
     
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  47. Laska Goralska

    Laska Goralska One of Us Ski Pass: Silver

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    Can confirm. I just had my first experience of unlifted skiing on Sunday. Spent since last season reading up, gearing up and started slowly with a simple bit of skinning up from DHG. Spent the whole drive home wondering why I hadn’t started years ago (and I’m still alive, hooray!)

    We all have to start somewhere, and that somewhere probably shouldn’t involve any dangerous terrain or risk of getting lost in a whiteout was my thinking.

    Looking forward to learning more and exploring further, slowly but surely...
     
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  48. Rick Ross Da Boss

    Rick Ross Da Boss One of Us

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    Awesome!! It’s addictive. Like all adventure sports, the learning never stops, the more you learn the more fun it becomes
     
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  49. climberman

    climberman CloudRide1000 Legend Ski Pass: Gold

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  50. CarveMan

    CarveMan Pool Room Ski Pass: Gold

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