Backcountry Ski Touring 2023-2024
For the 2023-24, season, backcountry ski touring is be organized by Harry Zinn
(SSOTHG.BCSkiTouring@gmail.com, 970-819-8479 voice or text). Thanks to Erica Lindemann and Don Campbell,
who sometimes serve as co-leaders or substitutes.
On our backcountry trips, we typically drive to Rabbit Ears Pass and park at one of the winter trailheads. Then we
head off on our own instead of sticking to the marked trails. Occasionally, we go to North Routt, Pleasant Valley,
or another area. Over time, we have found many beautiful routes and destinations and enjoy sharing them.
This is backcountry touring: We seek rolling terrain with moderate climbs and downhills. Avid backcountry
downhillers are likely to find our trips insufficiently challenging. Cross-country skiers on narrow, lightweight gear
designed for groomed trails are likely to be frustrated by the deep, soft snow. Our leisurely pace is inadequate for
anyone who wants a challenging workout.
Tom Baer photo
You do not need to be an expert to participate: You should be comfortable skiing 3-4 miles of moderate up-and-
down terrain at a leisurely pace. If you are comfortable skiing any of the Rabbit Ears Pass winter trails, you will be
comfortable on these trips.
When and where: Every other weekend on Saturdays. Meet in the parking area at River Creek Park at 9:20 am,
confirm the destination, check equipment, arrange ride-sharing, etc., and leave at 9:30 am. Return to River Creek
Park between 1:00 and 2:00 pm.
Safety and What to Bring
Even though our trips are introductory, safety is the first and biggest concern. In winter at high elevation and
away from roads, events like breaking a piece of equipment, getting injured, experiencing a medical emergency,
or getting lost present immediate, serious challenges. Even near the highway, rescue typically takes more than an
hour. A mile or two away from the highway, rescue often takes several hours, and it is possible to get caught out
In addition to appropriate skis, boots, and poles (see below for more information), each skier needs to carry the
following basic safety and survival gear.
- Sunglasses or snow-glasses. Protect your eyes from sunburn and from getting poked or slapped by a tree
branch or bush.
- Layered clothing you can adjust for changing conditions and exertion levels.
- At least 16 oz. of water in a container you can protect from freezing.
- A generous supply of easy-to-carry food—energy bars, protein bars, nuts, dried fruit, dried meat, etc.
Bring twice as much food as you think you need in case we are caught out longer than expected.
- A rescue whistle, an inexpensive compass, and a little toilet paper.
- An extra layer of protection for emergencies. A small tarp, an “all-weather thermal blanket,” or an
emergency “breathable bivy” is best, but they are expensive and bulky. A “space blanket” is small,2
lightweight, and inexpensive, but it tears easily and does not breathe—when you wrap up in it,
condensation will soon get you wet.
- You do not need to carry an avalanche beacon or a metal avalanche shovel,
but I encourage you to carry a “Snow Claw” shovel (see photo). A Snow
Claw weighs less, is more compact, and costs less than a metal shovel and is
particularly effective for helping someone caught in a tree well.
As trip organizer, Harry carries a basic first aid kit and gear for patches, repairs, and
fire-building. He is an experienced backcountry navigator and carries maps,
compass, and a satellite communicator that can contact search and rescue services,
even without cell service. (On our trips, cell service is inconsistent. Near the top of
ridges or peaks, service is sometimes pretty good, but in valleys between ridges or
peaks, service is usually non-existent.)
A note about avalanche danger: For many of us, avalanches are the first backcountry safety concern that comes
to mind. We do not ski in terrain that is subject to avalanches.
MORE ABOUT SKIS, BOOTS, AND POLES
Nearly all of us use metal-edged “wax-less” skis with fish-scale bottoms, and the fish-scales are generally
adequate for the climbing we do. Equipment options include:
- Traditional 3-pin cross-country boots and bindings with wide cross-country skis.
- Modern NNN (New Nordic Norm) boots and bindings with wide cross-country skis.
- Modern AT (Alpine Touring) boots and bindings mounted on wide cross-country skis or lightweight
- Lightweight Telemark gear.
- Note: Rottefella of Norway recently introduced a new backcountry boot and binding system called
“Xplore.” To me it appears to be a hybrid between lightweight Telemark and AT systems. It looks
promising but has not yet had stood the test of time in the field.
Each equipment style has its advantages and disadvantages. If you are thinking about buying equipment, it is very
valuable to try two or three different styles and brands before buying.
In soft snow, adjustable-length backcountry poles with large diameter “powder baskets” are easier to use than
Equipment rental: At least three shops in town rent backcountry touring gear. Backdoor Sports rents both
traditional 3-pin cross-country gear and modern AT (Alpine Touring) gear. Straightline Sports rents modern NNN
cross-country gear. Ski Haus rents both modern NNN cross-country gear and modern AT gear.
At all three shops, ask for a ski package for the Rabbit Ears ski trails, and they will know how to outfit you. DO NOT
just ask for “backcountry ski gear,” because you are likely to be given equipment that is far heavier and more
expensive than you will need.