The image of Adrenalin Descents owner and guide Scott Belton dropping into a deep powder turn while backcountry skiing in Golden, British Columbia, is my early favourite in 2016. It neither a gnarly ski-magazine image nor a shot that will convince a diehard backcountry skier to pack his bags and venture into the Golden backcountry.
But it’s intent was to inspire the resort skier that it’s high time they hire a guide and venture into the backcountry for the first time, rather than buy their next lift ticket.
I want to take a behind-the-scenes look into creating this image because I think it’ll accomplish two goals: 1) it’ll show aspiring adventure photographers some of the conditions we work within and 2) it’ll show aspiring backcountry skiers how to get started in an avalanche-smart way.
Behind the Scenes: Backcountry Skiing in Golden
Creating this image actually began a few days earlier, at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. I was working on a project with Katie Goldie and before we wandered into the backcountry, we spent a “warm up” day at the ski resort.
I’ve always felt a day at the resort is a good way to get warmed up before heading into the backcountry. Chairlifts and Gondolas give me an opportunity to really put some miles on my legs and gain confidence in my skiing.
But ski hills also present an opportune location to practice with essential avalanche rescue equipment and we took full advantage. It’s imperative that anyone venturing into the backcountry travels with an avalanche transceiver, prove, and shovel. It’s equally important to know how they work.
At the very least, every ski area (in western Canada) has an area called beacon basin. In this area, there are multiple buried avalanche transceivers attached to probe targets. They can be turned on remotely and work to practice both avalanche transceiver searches and proper proving techniques. The missing lesson is proper shovelling, which is important.
If you are interested in heading into the backcountry without a guide, it’s probably worth investing in an Avalanche Skills Training Course. It is the bare minimum – and something both Katie and I have. Personally, I’ve taken it a step further with the Canadian Avalanche Associations Level 1 Operations course simply because I spent so much time in the backcountry.
After a refresher course for Katie and a quick review of my own gear, we wrapped up our ski day at Kicking Horse a few hours before closing to save energy for the next day.
Backcountry with Adrenalin Descents
Rather than venture into the backcountry on our own, we teamed up with Adrenalin Descents for their two-day snowmobile-access ski touring overnight trip. Not only were we staying in heated backcountry tents, but we were also traveling with an ACMG ski guide is that knows the avalanche hazard and local terrain. Simply put, traveling with a guide equals maximizing the earn your turns nature of ski touring.
After a 9AM meet-up, we were on our way into the Golden backcountry for our two-day search of epic snow and photographs.
At the trailhead, we introduced the entire group. Along wth Katie, Scott, and I, there were three other guests, a videographer and a hut keeper joining us for the weekend. In total, we were 8 people. We loaded our equipment onto the snowmobiles and headed up the trail towards the campsite.
After unloading our spare equipment, we snowmobiled a few hundred metres further before switching over to our ski equipment. Ski touring is a game of quality over quantity, because we use climbing skins to climb to the top of each run. The average day nets as much vertical as a single ski resort lap.
Our plan for day 1 was to travel into the alpine for single steep descent along the base of a cliff. It took a few hours to climb, during which we all chatted and got to know each other better. When the skins finally came off, we dropped into our first turns.
Sadly, my shot didn’t quite work out and I thought I was done for the day. At the base of the line, our group split. Three people headed back to camp, while five of us put our skins on and ventured out for a second lap in a nearby avalanche path.
Skiing an avalanche path sounds dangerous, but it’s actually quite common. The best backcountry skiing all occurs in avalanche terrain, so it’s a matter of understanding snow conditions and minimizing risk. When the snow is right, skiing avalanche chutes is safe.
Scott, our guide, made this comment that stuck with me:
“It’s about listening to the mountains and picking your objective based on what they’re saying. It’s important not to make decisions based on your days off or your goals list.”
At the top of our second skin track, Scott pulled his skins off and prepared to ski. Before dropping into the line, he ski cut the slope and let loose a pocket of slough. Next, he watched as I dropped into position for my shot.
Once I was set, he started his run with a short straight line. As he gained speed, he set his turn and sank into the powder. I made my frame.
Backcountry Skiing Packing List
Thankfully, Adrenalin Descent’s backcountry camp is completely setup for meals and sleeping, so I only had to carry the essentials:
- Camera Kit: Nikon d750, 16-35mm and 70-200mm lenses
- Avalanche transceiver, probe, and shovel
- Downfilled hut booties
- Spare baselayers
- Ski wear and spare down jacket
- Helmet, googles, and gloves
- Toothbrush and toothpaste!
All this gear went into my Lowepro Whistler 450 backpack.
I wrote this behind-the-scenes post after a new camera company called Light reached out to me. They’re working on a new camera technology that could completely change the game. By combining 16 camera lenses into one, they’ve created a smartphone size camera that doesn’t sacrifice quality.