Backcountry Magazine 138 - The 2021 Skills Guide

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Level up your backcountry game with our fourth-annual Skills Guide. In it, we talk to guides, avalanche instructors, ski mountaineers and outdoor educators to glean their best advice on eight essential skills. Improve your trip planning, sleuth better snow and more. But first, Brandon Blackburn shares his experiences of backcountry skiing while Black, David Goodman reflects on the history of touring in the Northeast and Ian McIntosh and Nick McNutt debrief an avalanche in the Pemberton, B.C., backcountry and share a beacon malfunction. Also included is an off-track trip to Hokkaido, Japan, on which photographer Mattais Freddrikson explores lesser-known areas despite the island having its worst snow year in recent history.

On the Cover: “This was one of those days where the first turn is a lot deeper than expected and not forecasted at all,” photographer Cam McLeod says of this issue’s cover. After diving into sleeper powder in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon, a frosty Madison Ostergren brushed off the snow for a lightning-fast transitioning to score a second lap. Per McLeod, “Madison, in classic form, was intoxicated with laughter after powdering her nose.” [Photo] Cam McLeod


Off Track in Hokkaido
When photographer Mattias Fredriksson first traveled to Hokkaido, Japan, in 2006, he found the Niseko area to be relatively unexplored, complete with fresh lines and few other travelers. Fifteen years later, the famously snowy island’s winter traffic has exploded, so upon returning, Fredriksson, along with a group of Swedes and Canadians, skipped the resorts for something off the beaten track. What they found: A remote valley filled with quintessential white birches and deep, untouched snow—even in Japan’s worst winter of 60 years.

The Circle Game
Each day in the mountains presents a new learning opportunity, regardless of a skier or rider’s ability or experience. In our fourth-annual Skills Guide, we present eight skills that are essential to both a successful outing and, when turned into a daily habit, an entire season of growth. Each skill is applicable—and necessary—independent of goals and style and, as the industry professionals included prove, the opportunity to learn is one of the backcountry’s only constants.


Carston Oliver upends the scales of risk and reward.

Straight Lines
Brandon Blackburn shares his experience of skiing while Black, and David Goodman reflects on the history of skiing in the Northeast. Plus, a tale of love in the skintrack.


A Glacial Task
No one is monitoring America's glaciers—a concern for scientists and skiers alike. Scientists Aaron Hartz and Dr. Anders Carlson seek to change that through the Oregon Glaciers Institute, a nonprofit that measures the glaciers on some of the PNW's most beloved ski descents.

Toeing the Tech Line
Beacon, shovel, probe. Snacks, layers... iPhone? Technology, especially our cell phones and all the apps within them, have become a mainstay. But is the prevalence of digital, and oftentimes granular, information always helpful?

Wisdom: Mark Smiley
An internationally certified guide rethinks and reflects upon avalanche education.

Mountain Skills
The dos and don'ts of safely skiing a couloir.

Mountain Account
Professional skiers Nick McNutt and Ian McIntosh recount a near-death slide in Pemberton, British Columbia.


The Chittenden Brook Hut offers silence and solitude in Vermont's Green Mountain National Forest.

For over two and a half decades, Backcountry's kept a close pulse on skis, boots, bindings, splitboards and more.



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