Your legs burn with each step. Your lungs expand to maximum capacity. Every part of your body is hot and sweaty except for your fingers and toes, which are so cold you can hardly feel them. You've been meditating on the tips of your skis for the past hour; your mantra is the chorus from Otis Redding's "Chain Gang." You're beginning to wonder why you got out of bed this morning. But then you crest the hill and see your hut in the distance. The trail of smoke wafting from the chimney signals that warmth, comfort, and companionship are only a few short strides away.
This is the essence of backcountry skiing: task and reward. Whether skinning to a hut with 40 pounds on your back, boot-packing up a 50-degree chute, or simply hiking a ridge to get a photo, the task can take many forms. The reward? Entrance into a virtually uninhabited kingdom of snow, where untracked powder, endless vertical, and sweet silence are the norm.
But maybe you're intimidated by the backcountry, viewing it as the exclusive domain of duct-taped ski heroes and free-heeled hippies. You shouldn't be. With the growing availability of Alpine-touring adapters, randonnée equipment, and fat skis, the backcountry has become accessible to anyone with a reasonable amount of skill and the desire to explore. The key, of course, is to do it safely. In this section you'll find courses, camps, and guided trips for just about every level of experience: introductory and avalanche-safety courses for novices; longer, steeper trips for the more advanced; resort-based trips for those who still want to party at night; telemark tours for purists. But we've kept things simple (as backcountry skiing should be): All these trips are self-propelled-no heli or snowcat operations included.
So get out there -- way, way out there -- this winter. And as you're sitting at the top of a snowy ridge, your body pounded and sweaty, looking out over a bowl of fresh powder you're about to tear into, take pride. You deserve this.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION ON REGIONAL BACKCOUNTRY ADVENTURES, CHECK OUT THE RELATED LINKS (ABOVE RIGHT).