Five Essentials for your Backpack when Backcountry Skiing
You wouldn’t forget your skis, your boots, or perhaps your poles when you head off to the mountains. You wouldn’t get far if you did. Ski area skiing is one thing — heading out into the backcountry is another thing entirely. There are a few other essentials you should pack that can keep you safe and comfortable. Some things here may seem obvious, but then again maybe not. In any event, I never head out without these things packed safely away. You may not ever need them, but if you do, you’ll be mighty glad you packed wisely.
1. DUCT TAPE: Yep, good old duct tape. Now I don’t often take the whole darn roll (as much fun as that would be). I always have a full roll camping and banging around in the car, but when weight is an issue, I have to dial it down. Duct tape is like life insurance, property insurance and health insurance all in one. You never know when you might need it for equipment repair, to fashion a makeshift splint, to secure a bandage, or repair a tear in your jacket. Even just a small amount wrapped around a ski pole just below the handle is enough to power through. Be truly advanced and make it Gorilla tape. That stuff is virtually indestructible.
2. LEATHERMAN: This is also akin to an insurance policy. While I’ve never had to use my Leatherman (which is actually named for the company founder and developer of the original—Tim Leatherman) for a medical issue, I wouldn’t hesitate to do so. It could be indispensable in fashioning a splint or crutch out of branches, or slicing off a piece of cord for a sling. It is far more frequently called into service for equipment repair. When I am trashing through the woods or getting ready to drop into something like the Left Gully at Tuckerman Ravine, I want to make darn sure my ski boot buckles and bindings are dialed in and perfectly adjusted. The Leatherman is a constant companion with just about any telemark bindings, which I find require a bit more love that alpine binders.
3. CLIF BARS: I have friends who go on and on about the beauty of food, the pleasures of dining, how you only have a finite amount of meals in your life, so you might as well make them count. I don’t disagree. However, I am not going to bring an artisanal multi-grain crust Margherita pizza with fresh basil and buffalo mozzarella into the backcountry. When the priority is skiing (which only happens on days that end with “Y” when there’s snow on the ground), I get by just fine with black coffee and a CLIF bar or two. If I really want to get fancy, and pump up the protein count, I’ll even pack a CLIF Builder bar.
4. SPACE BLANKET: I am not a worrier. I don’t panic easily. Yet I am often prepared, occasionally to just short of overprepared. Thankfully I have never had a serious incident while out in the woods backcountry skiing or snowshoeing, but if I did and had to wait it out and spend a night in the woods, it would be a whole lot more comfortable with one of these lightweight, reflective Mylar blankets. It can keep you off a damp surface and preserve precious body heat. It takes up minimal space and weighs next to nothing. If you’re carrying a pack into the woods, carry a space blanket
5. HEADLAMP: Like a space blanket, having a headlamp, or at the very least, a fully charged flashlight, can help prevent a minor emergency situation from developing into a colossal nightmare. Headlamps are great for hitting the trail super early, or can help ease the path home if you stay out in the woods a wee bit too long. And again, this small relatively lightweight item can truly save your bacon. If you try to hike Katahdin in any weather or any season, and a ranger stops you and finds you are not packing some sort of headlamp or flashlight, they will turn you around. Heed their wisdom and always pack some light.
— Text & Photo: Lafe Low. Lafe is the former editor of Explore New England and Outdoor Adventure magazines. He is also the author of Best Tent Camping: New England, Best Hikes on the Appalachian Trail: New England and the forthcoming second edition of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Boston.