Extreme Skier Dan Egan Shares Backcountry Skiing, Riding Safety Tips -- East Or West
Skiing and snowboarding off groomed runs and in deep powder is one of the most exciting and appealing parts of snowsports today. So many snow enthusiasts deliberately ignore boundary signs and go off piste in search of powder stashes when skiing at a resort.
Other times, the naturally adventurous — including kids — see tracks made by experienced backcountry aficionados and, lacking appropriate skills, find themselves beyond a resort’s boundaries and in trouble after following those tracks. When unprepared and uneducated, many end up lost, others injured, and some even die.
“Backcountry is hip and cool now so it’s not just Telemarkers and Alpine Tourers who are going off piste. Recreational skiers and snowboarders are regularly going out of bounds, sometimes legally and often not,” Dan Egan, an extreme skier, instructor, and filmmaker told SnoCounry.com.
Either way, it’s at one’s own risk and safety rules apply to all who go out of bounds, kids included, he said.
“Travel in pairs, never alone, and with a backpack supplied with water, food, space blanket, and cell phone. A whistle is helpful to alert a companion to your location should you need help.
“Ski school is the best place to start or gain backcountry skill sets. Clinics address preparedness, how to read the terrain, technical skills, and can help with psychological skills, too,” Egan told us, stressing education is the route to safety and fun in backcountry explorations.
“People should know how to ski in pairs. This means keeping in the line of sight of your partner and doing short sections so you don’t have to travel long distances uphill to help someone who has become injured or stuck.
“The danger zone is people who have some information and think they can use it. But a little info can be dangerous — like taking avalanche courses. Folks not truly familiar with the terrain may think there is no avalanche danger when it is there, even in the East, not just out West,” Egan said.
Commenting on deaths in northern Vermont backcountry areas, he added, “A deadly winter can result from a little information when knowledge of terrain plus experience and skill sets were really mandatory.
“The way to get better is to take a clinic, ski with an experienced guide, and ask questions like ‘what would you do in this situation.’ Guides can address such dangers as tree wells, which are known dangers in the West but also exist in the East in areas of pines and soft snow. They can also address avalanche preparedness for those thinking of going out of bounds in avalanche territory.
“After a nice long run through the trees, skiers can often end up in gullies. They are hard to ski out of when no hiking trail exists, so it’s important to know about exit routes and how to find them, particularly in a snowstorm,” he said.
Make It a Great Day
Egan advocates going out “for a great day, not a great moment.
“One way to accomplish that is training routes. Find and do a route over and over again. Ski in the same zone where you know you are comfortable and can relearn it. Practice makes perfect.
“Locals are doing that — they tend to get it right because they have their favorite routes for stashes and do them over and over.
“If I were to go off the back of a ski area I didn’t know, those are the groups I would want to go with — if they’d share their patch of paradise,” Egan added.
“Utilizing the services of an instructor or guide can produce adventure, fun, and safety in a structure of professionalism. You find this when you go on a Heli or Cat-Skiing vacation because those operations are set up to deliver safe, fun adventures.
“More people need to take this type of approach to off-piste, whether in the West or East,” Egan concluded.
Photo: Top -- Dan Egan leads off-piste tree skiing clinic (Karen Lorentz); Below: Dan Egan (center) has plenty of tips for backcountry skiers and riders; Bottom: The Great Gulf of N.H. is popular with alpine touring skiing (JoAnn Kavouksorian)