One of the things I love most about backcountry skiing is how much it allows for a creative expression of freedom. Backcountry skiers don’t follow trails, we put our own skintracks or bootpacks up. We decide where we want to go.
I thought it would be helpful to explain the differences in these disciplines of skiing. Just like there are different kinds of ski racing (slalom, giant slalom, super G and downhill), there are different types of backcountry skiing.
Speaking broadly, backcountry skiing is skiing done outside of controlled areas. You can access the backcountry from gates at a resort or from a helicopter, but my favorite way is human-powered. The human-powered backcountry experience involves special equipment and training, using climbing skins on the bottom of skis and special boots and bindings to climb up the mountains we ski down. It involves managing risk factors like avalanches. I’m drawn to this type of skiing because I’m actually a big nerd and I love the techy scientific parts of it: snow science, route planning and mapping. For me, it’s a way to use both sides of my brains to plan routes, execute and to take the best photos and videos along the way.
Ski mountaineering is using skis to ascend peaks. It is more technical than backcountry skiing. Sometimes it involves ropes, crampons and ice axes to climb up more difficult pitches of rock or ice or rappels to get down.
Skimo is short for ski mountaineering and it usually refers to skimo racing, which is using lightweight skis to climb up mountains and ski down them, as quickly as possible. Competitive skimo racing came from military traditions when armies organized races to test soldiers abilities in alpine environments. Skimo is different from cross country because the equipment allows you to ascend and descend very steep slopes that wouldn’t be possible on cross country equipment.
There is overlap between these disciplines. You can take methods from one and apply it to the other. Over the years, it’s also been called randonnee skiing and alpine touring.
Whatever your motivation and discipline, being able to climb up mountains and ski down is my favorite thing to do and I can’t wait for the adventures ahead this spring! Check out my stories for a few of my favorite items for ski mountaineering and use code CAROLINE15 for 15% off your first order from backcountry.com.
Here are some of my favorite pieces of gear:
Scarpa Alien 1.0 boots
Petzl RAD system:
Petzl Leopard crampons:
Patagonia Ascensionist GTX:
Patagonia Capilene Cool Lightweight long sleeve shirt
Plum Race 150
Contour Skins Guide Mix
Petzl Gully Ice Axe
Julbo Shadow goggles
Julbo Fury sunglasses
Julbo Aerospeed sunglasses
Julbo Vermont classic