On Learning Backcountry Skiing On a Timeline

For me, setting goals and setting deadlines which I can then mark on my calendar, using an exuberant display of highlighters and sharpie pens, works best for me. I have something tangible that I can work towards, and there’s a sense of created urgency that keeps me focused. I suppose it’s a pattern that was laid in stone during schooling years, having those exams looming over the future and necessitating coffee-fueled study sessions. This is a good thing, though, I think – it helps to prioritize, to back into needed preparation actions and scheduling, and is great for boxing in time needed to make things happen in a successful way.

This was my approach for learning to backcountry ski. I was determined to learn to backcountry ski as quickly as possible, and my research demonstrated that a base level of resort/downhill skiing , built from about a dozen separate days of skiing, was sufficient for starting to backcountry ski. Snoqualmie ski resort offered a course for improving both uphill (skinning) and downhill skiing for backcountry skiing starting in January of this year, and since their discounted night-skiing pass seemed an economical way to access the slopes, this seemed like a really good option. I had first decided to dive into skiing back in November, so that gave me two months to research and buy appropriate used gear, and then get those downhill skiing trips in before the class started.

So far, I am on track. I was able to research a number of great blogs and articles around what to look for in terms of gear – some of my favorite included climberkyle.com and the Backcountry skiing: Skills for Ski Touring and Ski Mountaineering book by Martin Volken. I then marked in my calendar what days (not many) and evenings I would be able to ski using my discounted ski lift pass. The night before each of those scheduled events, I placed all my ski gear by the front door, so that I wouldn’t even have to think about it since I knew I would be tired at the end of the workday. Anything to reduce the friction of going. So far, I’ve gone about 8 days to the slopes, going up and down to practice my turns and get used to being on my skis. I also have practiced skinning and then, slowly, skiing back down. All of these efforts have paid off in that I believe that I have build a solid enough foundation for taking that next step for more advanced backcountry skiing.

Psychologically, this has been helpful for me, as it was a big humbling to be on the magic carpet and lurching unsteadily, arms flailing about me, as I tried not to lose balance and topple into the three year-olds about me. Or when I faceplanted from the ski lift, having had my backpack straps get caught on the chair. I’m totally okay with looking foolish if I know that it is part of the process to get me to where I want to go.

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