Even before the pandemic, skiers and snowboarders were flocking to the country’s backcountry mountain areas. Their reasons varied. Some hoped to avoid crowds, others to avoid paying for lift tickets. Others were thrill-seekers following in the steps of their favorite action-movie stars. Whatever the reason, they were willing to climb uphill under their own steam in return for the chance to ski downhill on untracked snow.
But after the coronavirus pandemic hit, interest in the backcountry skyrocketed. Between August 2020 and March 2021, sales of backcountry touring equipment — skis, boots and bindings — were up 115 percent compared with the same period over the previous years, according to market research from Snowsports Industries America, an industry trade group. Accessory sales — avalanche beacons, shovels and probes — were up 87 percent, and sales of splitboards (backcountry-specific snowboards that split in half lengthwise, so users can climb uphill the same as skiers) for that same period increased 92 percent.
The increase was part of a greater trend that saw significant upticks in outdoor recreation. People headed to backcountry destinations just as ski resorts limited access to enforce public health edicts.
Although the upcoming ski season at resorts promises to be less restrictive, interest in backcountry skiing seems poised to increase. If you’re among those who want to try it this winter, here’s how to get started.