What is Backcountry Skiing?

Person cross-country skiing in the backcountry.

What is Backcountry Skiing?

Backcountry skiing is the act of skiing outside a designated ski area or resort’s boundaries. It can include the use of ski lifts or transports and involves either downhill skiing or cross-country skiing. As such, all the benefits of skiing come with backcountry skiing as well. In recent times it has become more popular than ever due to a rising interest in winter sports.
It is the original form of skiing. In essence, simply skiing wherever you want for leisure, transportation, fitness, or fun.


What to Know Before Going Backcountry

Since backcountry areas are not curated and do not have ski patrol, there are number of critical things to be aware of before heading out.



The number one concern when backcountry skiing in the mountains or hilled terrain is avalanches. We recommend that you speak to a local experienced skier about avalanches in the area. Often times the local ski club or store will have advice and further information on avalanches. There are also formal avalanche training courses which are highly recommended. In Canada, Avalanche Canada offers a directory of courses from a variety of providers. They may seem costly at first but taking one of these courses can be the difference between life and death in the mountains.


Know Your Limits

It is important to be aware of your personal skiing skill level in addition to your overall fitness before going backcountry skiing. As a beginner to the sport, you want to avoid finding yourself stuck on a challenging three-day backcountry tour involving vertical climbs.


Backcountry Ski Gear

Skiers usually use speciality skis when cross-country skiing in the backcountry. These skis are specifically made to handle multiple types of terrain and even climb hills. Generally, these skis are lighter, wider, and have metal edges. We recommend that if you are planning on backcountry cross-country skiing far from a resort that you invest in a pair of backcountry skis.


How to Find Areas Backcountry

As a beginner, going somewhere that is a simple trip with easy access and low skill / fitness requirements is a good bet. We recommend that you talk to people at your local ski shop or try find a Facebook group in your area dedicated to cross-country skiing. Many areas also have local ski clubs that are more then willing to help out a newbie.


What is Off-Piste Skiing?

People use this term when referring to backcountry skiing. It is essentially the European lingo for backcountry skiing.


What is Ski Touring?

Ski touring is another term that is often used interchangeably with backcountry skiing. Technically, the difference is that when ski touring, a lift or transport is generally not used.
See our Ski Term Glossary for more ski terminology.


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