"Sidecountry" Skiing Blues

Skiing out of bounds can be just as dangerous as the backcountry

Yesterday we wrote about an unsuccessful Vermont bill to criminalize and fine skiers who require rescue after leaving resort boundaries. It was understandably controversial because of its potential to deter skiers who get into trouble from calling for help until it’s too late.

As misguided as the bill proved to be, the problems that inspired it remain: how to make so-called sidecountry skiers take the dangers of the backcountry seriously, and who should pay for their rescue outside resort property?

This week John Clary Davies of Powder Magazine proposed one small step towards a solution: stop using the word “sidecountry.”

Backcountry skiing close to the resort is just as dangerous as backcountry skiing anywhere else, which is why we need to kill the word sidecountry. The word perpetuates the myth that it’s not as dangerous as a place you had to skin to, and no, it won’t keep unprepared skiers from ducking ropes, but emphasizing the seriousness of that action might help. So strike it from your vocabulary. Call it lift-accessed backcountry. Call it backcountry. Add the fact that in the sidecountry, you’re more likely to have inexperienced skiers without proper gear skiing on top of you, like at Canyon Creek, and the lift-accessed backcountry is actually probably more dangerous.

The number of skier emergencies—and deaths—in near-resort backcountry has been on the rise in recent years. The Denver Post makes an example of Telluride, where a number of skiers have died in the Bear Creek drainage just outside the access gates.

Resorts like Telluride often promote their own backcountry as a lure to more adventurous skiers. From their own website:

While there’s a lot of fun to be had on the slopes, some of the best, most challenging terrain can be found just outside of the ski area boundary.  Bear Creek is adjacent to Revelation Bowl and Gold Hill; after a quick lift ride up and a short hike, you are ready to drop into the deep powder, tight trees, large bowls and big jumps on some of the best side country around.

Davies urges anyone looking to head out of bounds to treat their excursion like a true backcountry outing.

Here’s a little help from the Active Times archives:

Backcountry 101

Avalanche beacons

Avalanche shovels & probes

Avalanche airbag

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