Backcountry Saftey and planing

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Safety is your responsibility. No if's or but's about this. Be sensible, start out small and learn through experience and guidance. Try and hook up with others who are going out - you'd be surprised how many people will drag along a newbie on a trip, especially a day trip. If you can;t manage this straight up, then get tuition - and then start out small. A week's guidance is no substitute for a decade's experience in a variety of snow, weather, companion, equipment and safety situations.

Backcountry descents and touring don't have to be the certain death undertaking some would have you believe. The following points are some thoughts of mine on safety and care. Lots of people have written books on safety, look them up here and try and find them. The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service has a good pamphlet on safety - have a read.


One of the best things you can do to improve your safety and enjoyment is be fit before you head out. If you are fit you get tired less, make less mistakes due to fatigue, and your body is more resilient to injury in falls or other mishaps.

Ski in resorts, ride a pushie, run, swim, walk, whatever it takes. Excuses are only excuses. As Alex Lowe once said, 'the best way to get back into shape is to stay in shape' (or words to that effect).

Work on your legs (obviously), but train the whole body - cardio for climbing up hills, skiing and walking, your stomach to support your body and pack, arms and shoulders to share the load.


Be aware of weather forecast for the period of your trip. Call it off if necessary. These days the National Parks and Wildlife Service in NSW will issue a warning advising backcountry users to postpone their journey if particularly inclement weather is forecast. Contact NPWS or the Weather Bureau, or have a look on the weather forum on snow-info.

Generally speaking, weather is more stable after about the first week in September so this is a good time to plan those multi day trips to knock off the hit list. Temps are a little higher, sunny periods a little longer, and the days have a few more hours sunlight. Most years people will be out into late October.

Less is more

The less you have, the easier it is to move, the less tired you become and the quicker you travel. Over time you will refine your travel list - be ever vigilant for wasted weight. For example don't carry spare batteries, just stick the old one's in some non-essential item at home and travel BC with a fully charged set. Similar principles apply across the board in safety, tools, cooking, sleeping and camping equipment. First Aid

Carry and be able to use a first aid kit - everyone in your party should be able to use the contents to stabilise an injury until proper medical attention can be provided (this may be a number of days).

You really should do a first aid course, and try and get into one that covers outdoor activities. At least two people in your group should have these skills. I mean, it's no good you knowing the skills if it's your shin bone sticking through the front of the Gore-Tex leg panel - your partners really need to be comfortable looking after you. The NSW Ski Patrol runs a course every year that is a very involved first aid course. It trains and is a refresher for Ski Patrollers, and will enable you to legally administer some very luvly pain killers (if you are employed in a position which requires it). Check their website for details - it's usually in May and June, in both Sydney and Melbourne.

Think laterally (eg a pair of socks can substitute for a lost glove), and don't panic. Panic kills.

WEAR SUNSCREEN. This is pretty self explanatory - no-one likes to look at blisters on your face. Remember the undersides of your eyebrows, chin and nose as the reflection from the snow will trash those areas not used to a hefty dose of UV.

Trip Plans

Leave a trip plan with a responsible person. If you don't know any of these, just leave it with a friend. Make sure you tell them when you return, to save them sending out a search party for a bunch of people who are ensconsed in the pub. This is bad PR for BC travellers generally, and very naughty. Trip intention forms are also available at your local police station.

In your trip plan list possible variations you may try (eg if weather is poor, we may seek shelter at GRXXX. If extended good weather, we may head further north to try and ski route XXX). Make the trip contact aware of potential changes to your itinery in the event of poor weather (eg 'if the weather is crap, we will sit it out for up to five days before moving'. Or, 'we will use the GPS to navigate in a whiteout to ensure we are home no more than 10 hours late'.)

Use mapped place names and grid references to describe your positions, as they are easier to relate to emergency response staff than "that place we always camp near Townsend, except for if its crap weather when we'll go to that other place we used in '94".

An example of a trip plan and notification sheet is HERE. Feel free to use it, copy it and distribute it. No copyright will be asserted over this form as it is THE best way for people to have some idea of where to look for you if things go to hell. Leave one with your trip contact, and another in your vehicle if you have one.

Avalanche Beacons

A good idea is to obtain and learn to use an avalanche beacon/locator. Australian skiers are notoriously unaware of the factors involved in avalanche cause and effect. While we are sheltered from this 99.99% of the time as resort skiers, this is not the case with many of the areas described in this publication. Read, practise, learn (do a course), understand, and be AWARE. To see what can happen in an avvie, check out the pic by Mozzyy in the Introduction. A set of sites with avalanche information is on the links page.


Undertaking a rescue can take forever. You've got a good idea how to make a sled from your gear, but have you put one together ? Could you put a friend on it and start to move them (safely) within an hour ? How long would it take you to get back ? What about spinal injuries, or the unconscious ?

You need to have thought these things through, have had a dry run and be able to deal with them with a minimum of panic. Signalling Assistance

Every now and again all things may go to shit, and you'll need to signal assistance. The following table is a list of symbols which a search or spotter aircraft will understand and use to communicate. Make these as big as possible...

Simple Table:

Require Assistance V
Require Medical Assistance X
Proceed in this direction ==>
Yes/Affirmative Y
No/Negative N

And Finally

Have fun, get home in one piece, and leave regulations for sports with rules.