Fresh tracks, no lines and no traffic are just a few of the reasons skiers and riders want to venture into the back country. For those who enjoy a human-powered experience and the ability to explore the mountains on his or her own terms, back-country skiing and riding are the ultimate rush.
However, once one steps beyond the resort boundaries, skiers and riders take their lives into their own hands. With unpredictable snow conditions, no trail maps and no guarantee of a quick rescue should something go wrong, skiing in the back country can quickly become a dangerous endeavor.
It is each skier’s and rider’s responsibility to educate themselves on how to avoid risks. Many resorts and companies in Tahoe have created programs where skiers and riders can learn how to navigate the back country with experienced teachers and guides. If the back country has you dreaming of fresh tracks, check out one of these programs to get you started.
Backcountry Adventure Center
With a long-standing uphill travel policy and open boundary, Sugar Bowl has allowed skiers and riders to skin up the resort runs and explore the terrain just outside of its boundary. However, with an increased number of people wanting to explore outside the resort, it became obvious that an educational program would be beneficial for the resort and its customers.
Sugar Bowl teamed up with Alpine Skills International to offer classes and guided trips into the back country from the base on the resort. Get a taste for the adventure with one of several guided tours including one-day trips outside of Sugar Bowl or along Anderson Ridge, or overnight adventures to Lost Trail Lodge or Squaw Valley.
For those ready to commit to traveling in the back country, the Backcountry Adventure Center offers skills classes including certifications from American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education. Skiers and riders who began touring with Alpine Skills International have gone on to join guides on ski mountaineering trips to Mount Shasta and beyond including peaks in Antarctica and Europe. Guided tours range from $199 to $990 and classes are between $159 and $1,600. | sugarbowl.com
Homewood Snowcat Adventures
Debuting this season, Homewood Mountain Resort will offer guided tours as weather conditions permit on more than 750 acres on the flanks of Ellis Peak. Groups of up to 10 people will ride in the resort’s new Bombardier snowcat to steep glades, perfectly spaced trees and intermediate glades in pristine powder. All-day packages are lead by experienced guides from the North American Ski Training Center.
Participants will enjoy runs of up to 1,828 vertical feet from the 8,740-foot summit of Ellis Peak. Tours are geared toward advanced skiers and riders, however, private tours may be booked for intermediate groups. Tours start at $399 per person with discounts for passholders. | skihomewood.com
Pacific Crest Snowcats and Heli Guides
Take the human powered part out of the equation and catch a ride with Pacific Crest Snowcats and Heli Guides. Enjoy 1,000-vertical-foot runs in more than 3,000 acres of gladed terrain in some of the most untouched snow in Tahoe. Guided and unguided trips are available with tours catered to each group’s ability and needs.
Explore the most inaccessible runs in Tahoe with Pacific Crest Heli Guides. Open the doors to nearly 100,000 acres of skiing and riding. During the summer months, air drops and taxi services are provided for backpackers seeking remote locations. Private fishing trips are also offered. Prices vary. |pacificcrestsnowcats.com
With plenty of adrenaline-pumping terrain in bounds, it’s hard to see why anyone would need to leave the resort boundary.
However, Expedition: Kirkwood provides the perfect progression for the intermediate skier looking to take his or her skiing to the next level. The Discovery Series is a three-day program that puts skiers and riders in a small group with experienced coaches who will teach the techniques needed to navigate Kirkwood’s signature chutes, steep cornices and huge bowls.
For those who are comfortable in expert or advanced terrain, Expedition: Kirkwood offers cat skiing at Marten Point. Avalanche beacons, probes and backpacks are provided. Groups of four enjoy the freshest turns during four-run sessions following big storms.
Classes and clinics also are available starting with Intro to Backcountry and Backcountry Awareness classes and building up to certifications from the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education. Experienced skiers looking to practice skills also may enjoy AIARE refresher courses. Discovery Series sessions are $195. Private guided tours range from $370 to $500 for in-bounds and $435 to $635 for out of bounds. Cat skiing tours start at $250 per person. | expedition.kirkwood.com
Get in the Know
Alpine Skills International | alpineskills.com
Avalanche awareness, AIARE Level 1-3, AIARE refresher
Avalanche Awareness Tutorial | avalanche.org
Expedition: Kirkwood | expedition.kirkwood.com
Backcountry awareness, AIARE Level 1, Level 1 refresher
Lake Tahoe Community College | ltcc.edu
AIARE Level 1-2
Mountain Adventure seminars | mtadventure.com
AIARE, mountaineering, climbing, skiing courses
North American Ski Training Centes | skinastc.com
AIARE Level 1-3, mountaineering, climbing, skiing courses
Sierra Avalanche Center | sierraavalancecenter.org
Daily avalanche forecasts & reports
Squaw Valley Avalanche Awareness Clinics | squawalpine.com
Intro to Avalanche safety, AIARE Level 1
Tahoe Mountain School | tahoemountainschool.com
Wilderness First Aid, AIARE courses
Forest Service National Avalanche Center | fsavalanche.org