I get a lot of people asking me about backcountry snowboarding; where can you do it, how to do it and how to get into? This article should answer a bunch of questions covering backcountry snowboarding using a snowmobile.
What’s It Like?
It’s mega rad! It’s adventurous, it’s extreme, its difficult, tiring and rewarding. It’s like nothing you’ve ever done before guaranteed. Sledding itself if ridiculously fun and the terrain you can access is amazing. There’s a lot of powder to be had both on your sled and your snowboard!
This teaser was shot a few years ago when we filmed our how to ride powder section. It gives an example of what it’s like in the Whistler Backcountry.
(Rider: Nev Lapwood. Edit: Mitchell Scott)
What Is Backcountry Snowboarding?
Backcountry snowboarding refers to areas not covered by a resort or lifts including terrain reached by hiking, split-boarding, cat-boarding, heli-boarding or sledding (snow mobile). The backcountry usually has the best snow because it’s not easily accessible to others and is why almost all of the best snowboard vids are filmed in the backcountry. Snowboard Addiction is based in Whistler, Canada and we are lucky enough to have an incredible amount of backcountry terrain available to us. It’s definitely up there with the best areas in the world for backcountry riding.
Rider Nev Lapwood. Photo: Luke McDowell
Who Enters The Backcountry?
Only experienced riders should enter the backcountry, sorry Jerry. Most snowboarders have been riding for 5 plus years and can ride powder really well. You also need someone experienced in backcountry snowboarding to take you, it’s a stupid idea to enter any backcountry situation for your first time without someone experienced. That being said, even if you are experienced, you should always go with someone else.
Entering the backcountry and knowing you're in for a good day! Photo: Greg Roebuck
Almost everyone has taken a basic avalanche course. In Canada it’s a 3 day course and costs around $300. It teaches you the basics including self rescue. This is a good first step if it’s something you want to get into. Do it!
Is Backcountry Snowboarding Dangerous?
Yes – but driving a car is dangerous too.
The most talked about danger is avalanches. Make sure everyone in your party has self-rescue equipment and knows how to use it. A basic avalanche course will teach you that. Check the avalanche forecast each day before you go out because if the avalanche conditions are high or extreme, don’t go.
If it's high avalanche danger in the alpine, the tress might offer a safe haven for you. Rider: Nev Lapwood. Photo: Luke McDowell
The next biggest danger and a danger which is far more likely to occur for most riders, are injuries. You’ll need your buddies to save your arse, and when your old sled breaks down in the middle of nowhere, you’ll be glad your buddies are there to help fix it or tow you out. These are more good reasons why you never go alone.
What To Expect?
Sledding is hard work, especially while learning. It’s a new sport and you’ve done nothing like it before. If you’re fortunate enough to have a newish sled, things are gonna be a lot easier for you as they’ve developed a lot in the last few years. But if it’s deep snow no one is safe, you’re going to get stuck and have do a bunch of digging. As a general guide, it’ll take approx. 5 days of sledding until you start getting used to it.
Shredding with the homies makes it all worth while. Riders: Nev Lapwood & Duncan Mainland. Photo: Luke McDowell
Full disclosure, you’re not going to be snowboarding anywhere near as much as you think. Most of your days will be spent sledding and getting to spots. But that's okay when you're ripping around in snow with 500cc between your legs.
“Everyone thinks you just drive to the top and ride a million lines a day, some days you’ll snowboard 1 line or none, it’s so much fun though!” - Andrew Narkewicz - Long time Whistler local.
Getting A Sled?
Getting a sled can be a whole mission in itself. These machines stand up to a lot abuse and can break down, especially when they get old. If you think you’re getting a great deal then someone is probably selling you a sled with issues. At the end of the day, you definitely get what you pay for.
There’s 4 brands of sleds Ski-Doo, Arctic Cat, Polaris and Yamaha. Ski-Doo is a dominant player around Whistler with probably 80% of the sleds in the area. I’ve only owned Ski-Doo’s. There’s also 2 Ski-Doo dealerships close to Whistler, No Limits in Squamish and Valley Chainsaw in Pemberton, which are both great options when you need to get it serviced/repaired. I’ve dealt with both these dealerships and No Limits is by far my favourite. Every time I’ve had my sled serviced, the guys there are very fair and professional. Highly recommended. They also sell a lot of second hand sleds that are traded in when their customers upgrade. If you don’t know much about sleds then I’d highly recommend checking out what second hand stock they have. It may be a little more expensive than what's on Craigslist but it’ll be freshly serviced with any problems fixed which is definitely worth it. Check out Craigslist to get an idea of how much you want to spend and the market price of second hand sleds. If buying a brand new sled is not a big deal to you, then do it!
Views like this are why sledding is worth it! Rider: Nev Lapwood. Photo: Greg Roebuck
Backcountry snowboarding via snowmobile is awesome. It’s not like having a magic carpet and it costs a lot of money but it’s always an adventure and is super fun. If you’re looking to get away from the resort and explore more fresh terrain this is a rad option that you won’t regret!
If you have any questions you’d like answered, post them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them. Happy Shredding!
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