Why backcountry skiing is your passport to powder

Forget chair lifts and groomed pistes. Take yourself backcountry for the ultimate adventure.
JP Auclair on his trip of a lifetime, Haute Route in Zermatt, Switzerland on 27 February 2013
JP Auclair on the Alps Haute Route. © Julien Regnier / Red Bull Content Pool
By Dave Waag

There is no better place to get the goods and enjoy the mountain life than at a backcountry hut – away from the crowds, the lifts and the buzz of the daily routine. A backcountry hut immerses you in the pristine winter environment, local ski culture and, hopefully, deep, fresh powder snow. Either base yourself in one hut and explore local peaks or venture on a hut-to-hut ski tour. Ski mountaineer Dave Waag on why the backcountry rocks.

Sean Pettiit checks out a line during filming of Tracing Skylines, in Whistler, BC, Canada, on 9 February 2013.
Sean Pettiit in Whistler, BC. © Blake Jorgenson/Red Bull Content Pool

1. Unplug and immerse yourself in winter

Eat, sleep, ski – repeat. The rhythm of a hut trip lets you live and breathe skiing. The mountains are right out the door waiting for you. The phone and computer are not. Big traverses, extended ski runs and epic powder days are at your feet. Staying in a hut allows you to truly leave the buzz of modern life behind. Your mind and body will thank you.

Mountain hut covered by snow.
Eat, sleep ski - you can do it all at this hut. © Dave Waag

2. Untracked, virgin snow

You can dream about skiing uncut powder snow or you can do it. Hut life delivers the possibility away from the feeding frenzy of resort skiing. On a hut-to-hut ski trip you can encounter fresh lines all to yourself. And provided you're not on a super popular classic route, there's usually plenty to go around. Steep chutes, mellow glades and open alpine bowls beckon — breathe deep and enjoy the blank canvas.

Direction signs showing the right way up the mountain.
Paying attention to signs, highly suggested. © Dave Waag

3. Peak bagging

Test your mettle and bag a summit, or two. Multi-day hut trips afford you the time and proximity to get after it. Whether it’s a classic European high route or a little-known gem in the Rockies, hut trips tee you up for success. Few experiences match the sensation of bagging a high summit. The ski descent is the icing on the cake. Top tip: local knowledge is king — find a guide.

Three skiers hiking up the mountain
Skinning along in the backcountry. © Dave Waag

4. Food
Hut trips are as much about enjoying gourmet meals as they are about enjoying high places. Whether it’s a European hut where hearty meals are prepared for you or a catered trip to British Columbia where it’s gourmet fare three meals a day, eating an excellent meal is one of the great pleasures after a full day of ski touring.

5. Wilderness
Backcountry huts make wild places accessible. Adventure is bigger and better when you are surrounded by wilderness. You can go big, go high and ski until your legs can ski no more – but you can also go back to the hut to rest, recover and refuel. There’s no long slog out or long drive home; mountains surround you, take advantage and enjoy it.

Skiers enjoying the great view while hiking.
Backcountry gear can get you to big new places. © Dave Waag

6. Culture and Camaraderie
Mountain huts are part of the local ski and mountaineering history and invariably staffed by some great characters who help to preserve and perpetuate mountain culture at its finest. Enjoying the view and the access that skiing and climbing pioneers before you enjoyed adds to the rich history of a hut’s legacy and the camaraderie of your crew. You’ll remember that night sampling shots of local Grappa for a long time to come, not to mention the days spent laying fresh tracks with friends.

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