Boot Packing and Backcountry Etiquette

With more and more people skiing the backcountry and hike-to resort terrain, it's important to know a bit of basic etiquette on crowded skin tracks and boot packs.

Skinning UpSkinning UpThe slow rhythmic march of a boot pack or skinning trail can put your mind into a blissful trance. The sound of birds chirping, the wind whooshing over your shoulders, powder everywhere, and then that one guy creeping up behind you who won't shut up about how slow everyone is or how much money he lost in the stock market. With many of today's resorts adding hike-to terrain to their inbounds terrain and more skiers then ever taking advantage of the backcountry, it's important to know the right etiquette when traveling in groups. Here are some rules of thumb to always keep in mind, to save your day and everyone else around you.

  • Unlike highways, most boot packing trails are one lane, so if you move like an 18-wheel truck and realize a Porsche is creeping up behind you, give the right away to the faster skier/hiker. If you do need to take a break, politely move off the trail and let the other pass, even if it's a woman and your male ego will be severely bruised. In truth, there really shouldn't be any hurry. Terrain accessed via a boot pack is always on a first-come, first-serves basis, so if a skier is ready to charge the hike, the fresh tracks are theirs. Fair is fair.
  • In general, always keep at least 10 feet of space between you and the person in front of you. Because boot packing is a single-file journey, it makes no sense to crowd up to each other and getting too close could accidently get you a ski pole, ski, or branch in the face depending on the situation. Enjoy the hike and don't force yourself on anyone. Trust me, they know you're there.
  • Nothing is more annoying than the loud mouth. Go ahead and chat, but keep it to a reasonable level and keep your topics mellow. Many skiers head out of bounds to escape the riff raff of a resort. Keep the backcountry serene and peaceful, everyone appreciates it.
  • Always be conscious of and realistic about the ability level of your fellow skiers. Most hike-to terrain and backcountry routes lead to advanced terrain, and taking inexperienced skiers into terrain above their head is only asking for a crisis. Make sure everyone will have fun or there is a good chance no one will.
  • When it comes to actually hiking, remember the story of the turtle and the hare. When boot packing, it's much better to be the turtle. Take short, slow steps, but be persistent and constant. Taking longer, quick strides will quickly tire you out, forcing more breaks while others hike past you. Find a rhythm with your steps and don't break stride until you've worked your way up the hike a considerable distant. Sing, hum, beat box, do whatever makes your feet move at a constant pace. It can be surprising how much ground can be covered with slow persistence.
  • Most importantly, always remember that backcountry travel and hike-to terrain are a privilege not a right. Obey rules, stick to safe terrain, pick up trash and have a good attitude. Enjoy the wildlife, don't disturb it.

After you've done all that, remember to have fun and find some great snow!