Backcountry Skiing, Snowboarding (spilt-boarding) Q&A Series, part 1

Alyssa Olenberg-Meltzer

Photo Credit: www.jshawphoto.com Jonathan Shaw Photography

Part 1 – Backcountry Skiing, Snowboarding (spilt-boarding) Q&A Series

The boom in backcountry skiing, snowboarding and other snow-sports was brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic as ski resorts started closing down like falling dominoes starting in March of 2020 as state and local counties mandated ‘stay at home’ (SIP) orders as coronavirus outbreaks spiked.

Winter season 2020/21 will likely see similar trends especially pronounced if resorts are unable to implement effective protocols of limiting on-site visitors’ capacity, and social distancing especially indoors in common areas which will result in COVID infection outbreaks resulting in resorts’ closures.

Of particular concern is that finally CDC acknowledges that the coronavirus infection transmission is airborne by aerosols which means it is highly contagious. This fact does not bode well so we’ll see how this flu season and winter months play out.

Back to our topic, our backcountry Q&A feature looks at backcountry from a range of diverse perspectives, from an amateur to expert backcountry skier, from a ski shop small business retailer to backcountry touring guide, these Q&A series provide some key insights and also we’ll list resources to consider for avalanche safety training that is critical to stay safe in the backcountry. Most importantly, we list key resources to connect you with folks who share a passion and love for the backcountry.

Part 1 Q&A interview with Alyssa Olenberg-Meltzer who got into backcountry skiing and loves it from the start; she has four winters of experience..

With the impact of resort closures due to the COVID pandemic from mid-March of this year, can you describe from your observations if there’s an increase in demand for backcountry skiing/boarding/snow-sports?

Anecdotally, I can say that I have had a few friends reach out to me expressing interest….these are all folks that have been meaning to try backcountry skiing/splitboarding for at least a couple years but haven’t gotten around to it because it seemed too expensive and like a huge time commitment. We’ve had at least a couple posts and many comments from new folks on the group’s facebook page from folks interested in getting started. Personally, I’ve talked to more current backcountry skiers who are worried about new users flooding the backcountry than I’ve talked to people who plan to go backcountry skiing for the first time.

Do you know if there are backcountry snow sports folks from around the world visiting Tahoe/Sierra Nevada? Would BC visitors be able to connect with your FB group (see link below in resources) BC folks to freeski/split-boarding with when they join your group?

Yes, anyone can join and we love discussion. Lots of members (myself included) have found partners through posting on the group (see link below in resources), and at the very least posting is guaranteed to get you tons of advice from enthusiastic members. While everyone is nervous that an influx of new backcountry users may be a safety concern, I definitely believe that the people who are willing to spend time researching before they go out and asking questions of experienced backcountry users will be better equipped to make better-informed decisions, and I know that all of the moderators are committed to being welcoming and not acting like pompous gatekeepers.

That said, try to get some training before you go out. I wouldn’t feel super comfortable going out with someone who hasn’t had a good amount of practice with their beacon, shovel, and probe; an avalanche rescue course or AVY 1 is a good credential to put partners at ease.

How does a newbie get started in BC in three essential steps? What are just the bare essential set-up for BC skiing or split-boarding?

Step 1/pre-requisite: be comfortable skiing at least moderate un-groomed slopes in all snow conditions.

1) Get comfortable with backcountry equipment. I recommend both practicing what you can at home to make everything less fiddly (step into bindings, put on skins, transition, etc), and spending some quality time skinning without skiing. Cross country ski trails and flat forest service roads are great for skinning practice!

2) Learn to read terrain both from maps before you go out and in the field. I recommend spending lots of time staring at CalTopo maps with the slope angle shading overlay turned on for areas you know well- your usual ski runs are perfect, places you hike frequently, etc. You want to be able to have a mental image of what enjoyable (to you) skiing looks like on a map, so you can identify good potential routes. It’s also critical for being able to identify terrain traps to avoid and safe ascent routes.

3) Take an Avalanche AVY Level 1 course. It’ll help you understand avalanche terrain, improve your decision making process in the backcountry, give you necessary hand-on practice with beacons and probes and digging efficiently, and you may meet some great partners.

Bare minimum setup:

– skis/splitboard with AT, telemark or splitboard bindings
– boots for said bindings
– skins
– poles
– beacon, shovel, probe
– a comfortable backpack, preferably with a solid separate compartment for your shovel and probe that you can very quickly access
– warm, breathable and sweat-wicking layers…here in California much of my backcountry skiing is in thin soft-shell pants and relatively light base layers, but obviously having warm layers, windproof and waterproof layers is essential for safety and comfort. Packable is usually key too.

Your recommended gear and manufacturers with a success track record of building solid skis and or boards?

I care a lot more about my boots than my skis to be honest, but since you’re asking….Coalition is a Tahoe company that’s pushing the inclusion and equity that I want to see more of in the outdoor industry and makes super fun skis to boot! Also in the area, Moment makes some really killer skis too.

Can you recommend avalanche training outfits and mountain guides locally/in Tahoe/in Reno?

As part of the Mountain Festival, I took a course through Alpenglow Expeditions with Will Sperry and Ali Agee that really built my knowledge and confidence with reading avalanche conditions and terrain! I also can attest to Richard Bothwell (owner of Outdoor Adventure Club) as being a really thoughtful guide who will make you think critically about your risk taking and has a great attitude.

What is the takeaway message you’d like to get out to newbies about the joy of snow sports and the importance of Avy training, on-going BC education and connecting with mentors, ski buddies for safety?

Don’t be scared to reach out and ask questions. The folks worth going out into the mountains with will be happy to share their enthusiasm with you. Try to gain as much competence as you can on your own before going out by ideally taking Avy 1, or at least learning how to read an avalanche forecast, understanding the nine avalanche problems, and trying to solidify your terrain reading skills, and practicing with a beacon, shovel, and probe; then be ready to ask questions and learn.

Anything else you would like to add?

A lot of people assume that backcountry skiers start exploring the backcountry because they’re bored in resorts and want radder lines, but my experience was the opposite. I got interested in skiing because I love spending time in the mountains in the summer and wanted to get to explore the forests and alpine I loved in the winter. I tried cross country skiing once, but it seemed like it would be difficult to access the places I really wanted to go without beefier equipment. I started skiing resorts in January 2016 with the goal of gaining competence for backcountry skiing (but quickly fell in love with skiing because it is insanely fun, who knew?).

I went on my first tour in May 2016 and took Avy 1 the next winter, and since then I’ve become more and more obsessed. I’m still not, and probably will never be, a hotshot skier, but time in the backcountry has definitely helped my confidence in skiing all sorts of different snow and terrain, and the more competent I get, the more fun I have. It’s the hobby that brings me the most joy, I think because I get to have the unparalleled peace that comes with being in the mountains in the snow and the rush of racing down in the same day.

To be honest, COVID precautions are going to make it harder to get comfortable backcountry skiing. I’ve progressed and become more confident thanks to mentorship and some social situations…backcountry cabins, ski races, and classes. Try your hardest to find solid mentors that you feel comfortable going out with. And I can’t overstate the importance of this…be sure you understand what avalanche terrain is, what the nine types of avalanche problems are, and how to read an avalanche forecast before you go out. Lastly, don’t be falsely reassured by having a beacon, shovel, and probe; be sure you’re completely proficient in their use.” – Alyssa Olenberg-Meltzer, SF Bay Area resident and a member of the San Francisco Backcountry Skiers Facebook Group.

human-powered-backcountry

backcountry-skiing

edward-caldwell-photography

Photo Credits: Edward Caldwell Photography https://edwardcaldwell.com

Part 2 

Read our Q&A with Greg of California Ski Company, a retail store specializing in ski, backcountry, and touring gear and service based in Berkeley, CA.

Part 3 

Interview with Robert Shattuck, founder of San Francisco Backcountry Skiers (SFBS) Community on Facebook Groups.

 Part 4

Interview with Richard Bothwell, Backcountry Touring Guide and Director of the Outdoor Adventure Club

Part 5 

Interview with Carl Hlavenka, ski patroller with Tahoe Backcountry Ski Patrol and California Winter Search and Rescue Team North

Part 6 

Interview with Shane Robinson Owner & Lead Guide at Graybird Guiding based out of Baker Mt, WA

Part 7 

Interview with Mathias Bjoern, Founder of 48 FreeRiders, a backcountry ski, board community based out of Denmark

Backcountry Skiing, Snow-Sports Resources

✔ San Francisco Backcountry Skiers Facebook Group: ‘San Francisco Backcountry Skiers (and Riders) is a resource and inspiration for people in the San Francisco area (and beyond) who are interested in backcountry skiing and riding. SFBS welcomes both experienced and aspiring backcountry skiers and riders.’ Membership type: free, public group. 3.3k members. Visit their FB group page.

✔ SnowPals.org is a non-traditional snow-sports club for busy Bay Area professionals. Join SF Bay Area professionals to expand your circle of ski and ride buddies (resort based and backcountry), btw, that‚Äôs how we came up with our name: Snow (Snow-Sports) + Pals. Membership type: one-time paid membership fee of $20; join SnowPals. Read members’ intros to get an idea who joins. Founded in 1999 by a small group of friends; we are now 8,249 members and growing. Celebrating our 21st year of connecting folks to expand their circle of snow sports activity partners.

Sierra Avalanche Center’s education resources where you can get the backcountry safety education and hands on training

Lake Tahoe Backcountry Ski Topographic Maps and Guidebook

California Ski Company in Berkeley is one of the top ski shop retailer for ski gear for sale and rentals, plus boot fitting and equipment service. Cal Ski Co is a ‘specialty ski shop focused on ski equipment sale and rental since 1989. They sell and rent equipment for both Resort and Backcountry Ski Touring. Their team of expert ski boot fitters are the best in the business. They repair and tune about anything that slides on snow. Looking for a job? Cal Ski Co is currently hiring as of October 29, 2020. Full-time and part-time employment available: job openings, ski tech and boot-fitter. Experience is desirable but not necessary. The only criteria is that you are a skier. Interested or know of someone who is? Email resumes to .’

✔ Backcountry and Outback Adventures for Telemark and Randonee Ski Rentals, Fremont, CA and Larkspur, CA – Outback Adventures is a comprehensive outdoor adventure guide service, rental shop, and paddlesports and nordic ski specialty retailer located in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Sequoia National Park Lodging WUKSACHI LODGE

Located in the Giant Forest area of Sequoia National Park, Wuksachi Lodge is a modern lodge with 102 guestrooms. It offers a cocktail lounge, a full service restaurant and both a retail and ski shop. At an elevation of 7,050 ft. (1,980 m), Wuksachi Lodge is only 4 miles away from the Giant Forest Museum.
Delaware North Parks & Resorts offers multiple services like overnight accommodations, retail, food and beverage, etc. at Kings Canyon National Park in the area of Grant Grove and Cedar Grove. Limited Internet is available in some areas of the main lodge. Wuksachi Lodge is open throughout all the seasons.

GRANT GROVE CABINS

At an elevation of 6,500 ft (1,980 m), the Grant Grove Cabins is located in the Grant Grove area of Kings Canyon National Park. It offers 6 types of cabins; some are even opened all year. Main attractions like a sequoia grove, gifts shop, markets and restaurants are half a mile (800m) away from the Grant Grove Cabins. Open: All Year (limited in the winter)

✔ PEAR LAKE WINTER HUT

Managed by the Sequoia Parks Conservancy, Pear Lake Winter Hut is a rustic hut of 10 bunk beds that opens during winter and requires reservations but only for wilderness skiers who travel to Pear Lake during the cold season. At an elevation of 9,200 ft. the hut sits high above Lodgepole. This hut includes a wood-pellet stove. To get to it, you need to go through six miles on skis or snowshoes. Reservations can be made online or by phone: 559-565-3759.

Got a key backcountry resource not listed here that you’d like to share? Contact . Advance thanks for sharing.

* Browse Tahoe area rentals and private seasonal ski leases:
ūüŹā
http://www.snowpals.org/rentals/

* Browse shared ski leases: :
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http://www.snowpals.org/leases/

* How to increase bookings for your rental, ski lease listing on Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway, FlipKey, Craigslist:
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http://www.snowpals.org/2020/property-owners-guide-tips-create-appealing-listing-vacation-rental-ski-lease/

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Not for Profit Spotlight: Sierra Avalanche (Avy) Center for Backcountry Advisories, Education & Safety

sierra-avalanche-center-tahoe

Like to ski and snowboard in the backcountry where there’s abundant natural beauty, no lift lines, untracked powder slopes and wide open bowls?

Perhaps the most important consideration for all who goes to the backcountry to enjoy snow-sports is avalanche safety and acquiring the training and education to know what to do to avoid avalanche prone areas and what to do if you happened to be caught in an avalanche.

SnowPals‘ November snow-sports nonprofit HERO AWARD goes to the Sierra Avalanche (Avy) Center’s commitment to post daily avalanche forecast advisories to provide important backcountry safety information to keep everyone safe in the greater Lake Tahoe area.

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‚ô• Sierra Avalanche (Avy) Center functions as a private-public partnership between the US Forest Service and a 501(c)(3) not for profit organization known as Sierra Avalanche Center (SAC).

The 501(c)(3) not for profit organization known as Sierra Avalanche Center is focused on educational and safety programs to support winter recreation and fundraising to support the financial needs of the program. It consists of a volunteer Board of Directors, a volunteer Advisory Panel to the Board of Directors, and a paid Executive Director to run programs and operations. Through its fundraising efforts this group provides two thirds of the funding necessary to cover budget expenses and operations. Other expenses paid for by the not for profit include the costs of continuing education and some of the cost of the equipment necessary for the forecasters to operate safely in the field. The not for profit also funds sub contracted field observers to collect additional information for avalanche, snowpack, and weather data. Fundraising for these expenses is accomplished through the organization of the SAC Ski Day fundraisers, by securing sponsorships and grants, as well as by gathering private donations and conducting a membership drive for user support. Additionally, the Board of Directors works jointly with the Tahoe National Forest to make decisions regarding the future direction of the avalanche center that are acceptable to both parties.

Mission Statement
Sierra Avalanche Center’s mission is to inform and educate the public about backcountry avalanche conditions in the greater Lake Tahoe area.


=== Join SnowPals’ Annual Backcountry Mixer (due to Covid, 2020 we will not have group events until the pandemic is over) ===

Meetup with local backcountry skiers + boarders near you to connect for backcountry trips, share expenses, rides & perhaps lodging, expand your circle of backcountry ski, ride buddies/your wingman/woman for safety in the backcountry ..

http://www.snowpals.org/events/

Avalanche Education Providers (Classes/courses in avalanche awareness and safety, Level 1 and 2)

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Locations

Donner Summit – Truckee – North Lake Tahoe | Mt. Rose Area | South Lake Tahoe – Kirkwood – Gardnerville | Bay Area | Reno | Bear Valley Area

South Lake Tahoe – Kirkwood – Gardnerville

source: https://www.sierraavalanchecenter.org/education/providers

The California Avalanche Workshop (CAW) offers a mix of video chats and Instagram IG/Facebook live talks with forecasters, researchers, and past CAW presenters.


Where can you buy discount Tahoe area resort lift tickets and also support a great nonprofit cause?

During the winter, the Sierra Avalanche Center sells discount lift tickets; funds raised supports their program.

Buy tickets at https://www.sierraavalanchecenter.org

The Truckee Ranger District on the Tahoe National Forest houses and runs the avalanche forecasting operations of the avalanche center. It houses three full-time, seasonal avalanche forecasters and provides infrastructure including office space, computers, internet access, phones, vehicles, fuel, safety equipment, and supervision. The forecasters gather avalanche, snowpack, and weather observations then use this data to create and issue avalanche advisories and avalanche warnings.

Other not for profit organizations we commend for their passion and service to the snow-sports community..

‚ô• Our featured snow-sports nonprofit for October is SkiDuck, a nonprofit organization, whose mission is full of heart; since 2010, when ski season is in full force, they offer a free program to bring disadvantaged and financially underprivileged youth to the snow and to teach them the joys of skiing and snowboarding.

“SkiDUCK (Skiing and snowboarding for Disabled and Underprivileged Children and older Kids) is a volunteer-based non-profit organization dedicated to enriching the lives of disabled and underprivileged children by bringing them to the snow to share the joys of skiing and snowboarding! Read more about SkiDUCK.

‚ô• Spotlight pick for September for Non-profit Community Service is awarded to the High Fives Foundation..

In the last decade, the High Fives Foundation has gained widespread acclaim among snow sports athletes for the foundation’s dedication to raise injury prevention awareness while providing resources and inspiration to those who suffered life-changing injuries. Even more impressive, they’ve managed to become a common thread of connection and hope between a variety of athletes, outdoor sports communities, and charitable initiatives. Read more about the High Fives Foundation

‚ô• Share SAC backcountry safety advisories with family and friends and plan a Tahoe getaway; share this page via , twitter, facebook.

*New to SnowPals? Join SnowPals to..

+ expand your circle of ski and ride buddies for resort skiing/riding or if you opt for the backcountry, connect with a buddy to ski/ride with as your wingman/woman for safety.
+ expand your Tahoe rideshare contacts for trips to Tahoe and beyond especially those with multi-resort pass that gives you access to resorts worldwide (share trip expenses and perhaps make a few friends who are members of a ski lease and get invited to stay at the ski lodge as a guest)

Read about some of our newly joined members and consider joining us and share our love for snow sports.

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Pre-Season Ski & Snowboard Conditioning Boot Camp

Get in shape for the ski season to prevent injuries; boot camp starts Monday Oct 21st. Register now!

  • Reap the most benefits from a 60 min workout
  • Condition muscles for skiing/riding
  • Get outside of the gym & change up your routine
  • Enjoy a fun and challenging workout

when & prices:

Option 1: Monday & Wednesday, 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM; 2x a week, for 5 weeks, from Monday Oct 21 to Wednesday Nov 20. Cost: $150 (a set of 10 classes)

Option 2: Saturdays only, 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM; 1x a week on Saturdays, for 4 weeks, from Saturday Oct 26 to Saturday Nov 16. Cost: $60 (a set of 4 classes); supplement your gym workouts

Option 3: Sundays only, 10:00AM to 11:00AM; 1x a week on Sundays, for 4 weeks, from Saturday Oct 27 to Sunday Nov 17. Cost: $60 (a set of 4 classes); supplement your gym workouts

Option 4: Weekends Only (Saturday & Sunday), 10:00AM to11:00AM; 2x a week on Saturday & Sunday for 4 weeks from Saturday Oct 26 to Sunday Nov 17. Cost: $120 (a set of 8 classes)

Includes:

  • T-Shirt
  • Pre & Post Fitness Assessment
  • Strength Training Plan
  • Nutrition Plan
  • Completed Program Celebration Party($20 RSVP)
  • single class drop-in rate: $25
  • Give your favorite person a¬†gift certificate¬†to our boot camp.

where: The FIT Potato Studio, 6894 Village Parkway Dublin, CA 94568

 

Are you in shape for skiing/snowboarding?

When October arrives, there’s less than seven weeks left until the start of the 2013-14 ski season. Are you in shape? Skiing and snowboarding is one of the most¬†demanding sports, both mentally and physically. Whether on a ski holiday or skiing 30 days per year, sign up for our preseason ski conditioning boot camp to increase your¬†enjoyment, skiing performance and help prevent common skiing and snowboarding injuries.

Common ski injuries involve the knee, particularly, a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury(see diagram below: source wiki)

acl knee injury - wiki pic at http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Knee_diagram.svg

Other common ski injuries involve ligament sprains, soft tissue bruising and joint injuries. For snowboarders, common injuries typically involve fractures(broken bones), joint injuries such as dislocations (when the joint surfaces are completely torn apart) and subluxations (when the joint surfaces are moved out of position, but not completely). Most injuries are the result of poor or no conditioning.

Skiing and snowboarding are dynamic activities that recruit multiple muscle groups. These activities are carried out on even and uneven surfaces and place high levels of stress on muscles and joints which increases the likelihood of injuries. Incorporating functional exercises to strengthen muscle groups of the quadriceps, gluteals and hamstrings help to prevent injuries and get you in shape for the ski/ride season.

class description:

Each class will focus on snowsport-specific exercises integrating strengthening, balance/proprioceptive, agility, plyometrics, flexibility/yoga and core training.

learn & develop:

  • proper knee alignment through training
  • functional balance
  • plyometrics for power
  • interval training for stamina
  • abs/core strength
  • stretching/yoga for increased range of motion and relaxation

Each class is unique. You will get a great workout that will get you in shape for the ski/ride season. We maximize training effectiveness by combining circuits, interval courses, drills, calisthenics and functional ski/snowboard-specific exercises(incorporating typical athletic stances, and engaging all of your muscles in movement patterns typical of how you would move when skiing/snowboarding).

The exercise format is fun and easy to follow and can be modified to any level: beginner to advanced. You’ll get in great shape and meet other like-minded ski and ride enthusiasts.

pre and post assessments included:

Included in this class is a fitness performance assessment that will take place on the first day(to set a baseline) and last day of each class(to measure your improvements). Fitness Assessments include a body composition test (body fat testing) and taking your body circumference measurements.

coaches:

Francisco Gomez holds a B.S. in Exercise Physiology; currently earning a Masters in Exercise Physiology; National Exercise & Sports Trainers Association(NESTA) Certified Trainer and award winning college coach. Francisco enjoys skiing and snowboarding at Squaw Valley.

 

Juan Gomez holds a B.S. in Business Marketing; currently earning a Masters in Exercise Physiology; top running athlete and cross-country running coach. Juan’s favorite Tahoe resort for snowboarding is Heavenly.

“No Time Like Now”

To quote a phrase, it’s never too late to get started. According to Linda Crockett, education director for the Professional Ski Instructors of America and the American Association of Snowboard Instructors, “the six weeks before the season are the most important in strength training and anaerobic conditioning. Even if you haven’t been conscientious about training in the off-season, you should focus on a regime during these fleeting days before the snow flies. After all, you can’t get up to the slopes and expect your body to do something that it can’t even do on dry land,” she says.

Pre-season training is for everyone. Get fit and prevent injuries.

Our fitness assessments are included. Our workouts are different each day, our classes are never overcrowded, and our sessions are closed to the public once we’ve begun.

to register 

1. Submit the registration form below. Pay $20 to reserve your spot; the remainder of the balance is due on the first day of class. You will receive an e-mail confirmation within 24 hours that you have been registered.

2. If you’d like to try out the bootcamp, we offer a $25 drop-in class option. Keep in mind that the more frequently you go, you’ll get better results, and you’ll save more when you select one of our bootcamp packages described above.

*Please note that classes are non-transferable. Classes do not roll over and credit will not be refunded for unused classes.

For questions or to order a gift certificate: drop us a line via  or call (925) 487-6115.

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*what to bring to class

Bring a water bottle, a towel, sunscreen(for our Saturday morning classes), gloves if you don’t like putting your hands in the grass, comfortable layers of clothes and athletic shoes. Most helpful is to bring your unworried mind, high energy and positive attitude!