Being comfortable and familiar with the people you spend time with in the backcountry is important from an enjoyment and a safety perspective. There’s nothing worse than a bluebird, stable day in the backcountry that gets ruined by the schlub your buddy brought without telling anyone beforehand. You know the type: talks a big game but has a transceiver that’s older than dirt, wears headphones the whole tour, and has to stop for smoke breaks every 20 minutes to ‘catch his breath.’
The challenge of finding good touring partners is something that most of us have faced at some point. Here are some pointers to avoid being ‘that person’ and things to watch out for when scoping out future touring buds.
This article isn’t about how to be safe as a group. It’s about how to be someone that will get invited on the next trip and avoid some backcountry blunders (yep, cheap alliteration) that new people might not even be aware of.
Some of you will disagree with some of these, and that’s fine. There are many different levels of intensity and personality types out there, and these are just rough guidelines that most people can use as a guide.
1. Do some research before the trip
Check the avalanche forecast (daily if you can) to get familiar with what’s going on with the snowpack in your region throughout the season.
Don’t exclusively rely on your trip partners to plan everything – take a look at a topo map/guidebook/navigation app/trip report of the zone you’re planning to tour so you’re at least somewhat familiar with the terrain. This will help you to make informed decisions that will keep you safe, and prevent you from looking clueless.
2. Have your sh*t ready to go!
Have your gear as packed as it can be – don’t get to the trailhead and then start scrounging around your car for items you should have packed the night before. A bonus is to have your skins on your skis and your beacon strapped on before you get to the meeting point. All you have to do is throw your boots on, click in, and turn your transceiver on and you’re ready to go.
3. Be honest and humble about your abilities
It’s better for everyone if you’re honest about your skiing abilities, navigation skills, fitness, etc. Don’t pretend to be a big mountain hero if it’s your third day skiing powder. Everyone will find out soon enough anyway so there is no point in pretending. And don’t claim to know the route like the back of your hand if you’ve only done it once 5 years ago. You’ll have a bad time and so will everyone relying on you.
Fitness is a bit of a tough one…if you haven’t done much touring, it’s hard to gauge how fit you are relative to a group, but err on the side of humility. It’s better to have energy left at the end of the day than to have to be dragged out on a makeshift sled…remember, there is no ski patrol out there.
4. Check with the group before inviting other people
Depending on the group, this usually isn’t a problem, but I know a lot of people that prefer their touring posse to be 3 or 4 people at most. It’s a nice courtesy to check with the rest of the group before inviting a herd to join you, especially if you’ve never backcountry skied with them before.
5. Don’t be afraid to pull the ‘chute
If conditions change, a storm whips up, or the snowpack isn’t behaving like you thought it should be based on the avalanche forecast, don’t be afraid to turn around. There’s absolutely no shame in turning around from an objective – surviving to attempt it another day is the far better alternative to proceeding in sketchy conditions. Being cheerful about it will earn you bonus points – no one likes a complainer.
6. Be a snack-master
This one will earn you more points than you would think. Bringing great snacks with enough to share is always a good way to earn brownie points. Everything tastes better when you’re cold and tired in the backcountry, so whipping out a surprise tasty treat will make you a winner. Hot drinks on a cold day can’t be beaten either. Traveling with a bit of whisky has been known to turn a frown upside down too.
7. Communicate time constraints well before the trip
If you have to be back in town for a 4 pm supper date, let everyone know at least the night before. People are not always keen to cut a touring day short, especially if there is great snow, so letting people decide for themselves if they want to cut it short is a nice gesture. Finding out when you arrive at the trailhead that one or more people are bailing early can be annoying and even worse if the people leaving early are the ones driving.
8. Let the group know if you’re bringing a dog
This has never been a problem in my experience, and is more of a courtesy than anything, but it’s good to let your buddies know if you’re bringing Fido. Some people don’t like dogs…yes, I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s very true. Be courteous.
9. Be bold. Start cold
Okay, cold might be an overstatement, but don’t start the tour with your puffy jacket on. You’ll have to stop 5 minutes in to shed a layer and hold everyone up. Start in fewer layers than you need to stay warm standing around – you’ll heat up quickly once you get moving. On the same note, don’t wait to long to shed a layer if you’re getting sweaty. It’s tough to recover from getting wet and chilled, so if you legitimately need to stop, go for it.
10. Listen to everybody in the group
Everyone in the group, even the least experienced person, has a voice and an opinion on what’s happening during the tour. As an experienced backcountry traveler, it’s easy to just go with the flow, but pay attention to how the whole group is feeling.
On the flip side, if you’re feeling uncomfortable with something, speak up! Don’t feel like your lack of experience means that you won’t notice something that others don’t or that you should have to do something that’s beyond your skill level.
There are so many more things that come to mind for this article, but that’s enough for now. Maybe I’ll do a part 2 at some point as a follow up.
If you have any pet peeves or tips on how to be a great touring partner, leave a comment below!