10 Reasons To Finally Give Backcountry Skiing A Try

Don’t get us wrong: Ski resorts are great. But if you’ve ever been stuck behind dozens of people in a lift line, not so patiently waiting for your turn to get back on the slopes, thinking the “good” snow is being scraped away by everyone in line before you, you wouldn’t be alone. For me, making the jump into the backcountry was a product of being tired waiting in line, but the benefits go well beyond that. Not only can you skip the lines and ticket windows, but you’ll get a full workout in, and have lots more flexibility with time and your ski schedule. So why should you consider skiing uphill?

Credit: Luke Looman

1. It’s great exercise.

The biggest thing to like about uphill travel—whether you’re deep in the backcountry or just doing an uphill lap at the resort—is the amazing exercise it provides. When I’m on a steep pitch, almost to the end of my ascent, the burning in my lungs and legs and the exhaustion of the climb feels great. While this may prevent some from trying skinning, my fellow exercise junkies out there know that the sweat makes the experience even better because you’ve earned each of those turns.

2. You have more time flexibility.

For me, this seems more important than for most other skiers. I work rotating shifts so my schedule fluctuates, and my busy schedule usually doesn’t allow me to take a ski day. But since I don’t need to rely on a chairlift, I get turns in anytime, day or night. Just last week I did an uphill lap at my local ski area at midnight simply because that was the most convenient time for me. If you’re going to be uphilling at a resort, before heading out, always get familiar with the policies of your particular ski area and the hours they allow uphilling. They typically go well beyond the mountain’s life hours, but it’s worth knowing if there is a cutoff.

Credit: Luke Looman

3. Find more location variety.

Another big selling point for skinning is that all you need is a mountain and snow. Once you get better, you can explore different routes, and begin to challenge yourself with tougher terrain. Backcountry skiing has not confined me to one route like riding a chair lifts. And now, it’s exciting when I get to the top of a new ski line. I see a different view almost every time I go out, even if that view may not be as picturesque as the resorts, the feeling of exploration is unmatched by any chair lift rides.

4. Ride more terrain.

Resorts usually cater to families and tourists, and I have noticed their terrain options are limiting compared to backcountry skiing. There are only so many times I can ski yet another wide-open groomer before I crave some fun glades with their hidden, unexpected obstacles. In the backcountry, you’ll stumble on lines you never knew existed. The trees may tighten up, you might stumble upon an open field, or you may be headed straight towards a cliff (be careful!). Those surprises have proved rewarding to me when I find an exciting stretch of woods that let me find a good flow but also challenges my skill level.

Credit: Luke Looman

5. Ski through sunrises and sunsets.

Everyone loves a good sunrise or sunset, but if you’re confined to resort skiing, you rarely get the opportunity to ski during these picturesque moments. Skinning allows you to combine your favorite outdoor sport with a daily dose of natural beauty. Since uphill skiing is more arduous and takes a longer time, I end up stopping and enjoying the view more than I would have otherwise. The sunrise or sunset gives me an excuse to stop at the top and relish in the fact that I worked hard to get up there, while taking in a gorgeous view.

6. Make it as competitive or uncompetitive as you want.

If you’re competitive like me, knowing how quickly you can skin the local uphill route can increase bragging rights to your buddies. When someone tells me they made it up a mountain in a certain amount of time, it isn’t long before I’m getting packed up to try to beat that time. There is something special about being competitive in a difficult sport that makes it more rewarding.

Credit: Luke Looman

7. Combine camping with skiing.

For any crazies out there that enjoy winter camping, finding a good backcountry zone that allows camping can provide an entire weekend of exploring. If you are willing to skin in the night before, you can gain access to almost any terrain on the East Coast (that’s avalanche safe), and you are likely putting yourself in an incredible spot to start your day the next morning.

8. It’s cheaper!

While a touring-specific ski setup can come with some initial cost, thanks to the rising costs of ticket prices, you can actually save money in the long run in the backcountry. And especially considering how many years you’ll get out of that new gear, it’s well worth it.

Credit: Luke Looman

9. Find better—and deeper—snow.

I’ll admit, I am a bit of a snow snob. Fake snow just isn’t the same as natural, and any other snow snob will agree with that. When you catch a powder day at the resort, it may not last long before it turns into bump city. However, the backcountry may remain undisturbed all winter long. You just need to know where to find the goods.

10. The “Cool Factor.”

When you do the research, spend time looking at maps, talking to locals about the good stashes, it makes the ski experience so much better. Standing at the top of a remote mountain thinking “I bet not many people have skied this before, if ever” is something I think every skier should experience.