Sometimes it pays to earn your turns Image:: Alex Horvath
TECH TUESDAYS are a new fortnightly installment that will aim to provide you with step by step instructions for often overlooked but super important techniques for getting the most out of your hard earned snow gear!
Travelling in the Backcountry | Words by Alex Horvath, Interview with Bruce Easton - Wilderness Sports, Jindabyne
There comes a time in the evolution of every riders skill set whereby we begin to sense our mind wandering to those distant mountains beyond the ski area boundary. Inbounds terrain is great however there are only so many times you can lap that chairlift without feeling a burning desire to expand your horizons.
Of course this feeling is only natural, boundary ropes are the unknown divide, it often feels like what lays outside of them is preserved for an elite few that are willing to risk it all, eat granola bars and 'earn their turns'. However, unknown to many people some of the best terrain in Australia can be found only about 2 hours hike from the resorts.
I recently caught up with owner/operator of Wilderness Sports, Jindabyne and backcountry specialist Bruce Easton. Here Bruce runs us through his first few experiences of backcountry travel and the essential gear that you need when considering a foray into the environment, and also provides us with a few important considerations....
Out in the Backcountry first turns are endless Image::Mark Tsukasov
Bruce, when was the first ever time you decided you wanted to jump that boundary rope and head out into the unknown?
I got into the backcountry looking out from places like Falls Creek onto the high Plains and driving up to resort areas in Victoria...I found myself always looking beyond the lifted areas to the mountains beyond.....I got pretty bored fairly quickly as it was lap after lap and I wanted more terrain and challenges.
How did that feel and what was it about the backcountry that made you want to explore?
It was about bragging rights to my buddies initially but then it became a search for the hidden places and fresh tracks. Just like it was when I first surfed places like Phillip Island and Johanna Victoria over 20 years ago, I hiked then too!
Do you remember feeling prepared/unprepared when you were out there?
It was always a steep learning curve whether it was the ski gear or for camping or just staying warm and dry while out in the mountains. Often it still is!
As the owner of a backcountry specific business how do you feel about the state of the backcountry community in Australia, is it just a small group of people who all know each other? How willing do you think the community is to help newcomers out by imparting their wisdom and knowledge?
It is a small community but then again new people are always coming along and discovering that there is so much terrain and that the effort to get out and explore new places is what keeps it 'fresh'.
To be honest what I find is that people have a vision and an expectation but do not always want to or have the time to make the effort or are prepared for the journey. It does take time, requires effort and you need to be committed. Too many people find it easier to buy a lift pass! The good news is lots of people these days want to explore and discover new terrain and make fresh tracks, mostly because they want to be excited in the snow as in they don't want to be bored lapping the same runs.
Do you feel like the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the Resort operators provide enough support to backcountry users in Australia?
I think that most people are intimidated by the backcountry and rather than thinking they can do it, they are told it is "hard and dangerous". With some encouragement and opportunities to show the right way I think it would open people's eyes to what is really accessible and also really fun but challenging terrain. There are lots of opportunities to expand awareness and also access but it remains a bit uncertain and niche but ready to be discovered and also invested in.
No ski patrol or SLOW zones Image::Joe Corcoran
For a rider in Australia who is thinking about heading out for a trip, what would you say are the less obvious considerations they may need to make?
They should realise that they can do it and that with a little bit of preparation and knowledge of staying within their limits they can explore terrain and new places to keep their riding fresh and tasty.
Also it is important to safely build a skill set, as well as gather the right equipment to have lots of fun and access the goods easily, with that knowledge and skill they can then extend themselves and discover even more challenges both here as well as overseas.
Australia is a great place to build skills and you do not need to travel far.
And how about for multi-day trips that involve snow-camping, obviously this changes the level of preparedness, what are your top five tips for making a first time snow-camping trip more enjoyable?
1. Talk to someone with the experience and knowledge and share their wisdom;
2. Go practice your riding in all conditions to increase your versatility and skill set;
3. Acquire the best gear you can to start exploring and as you increase your experience only then buy what you need (not what you think you need);
4. Go to nearby places and camp close by while you gather your skills and equipment before heading to greater challenges and even more remote places;
5. Experienced and knowledgeable guides have the years under their belt so listen to the experience rather than searching for knowledge via the internet where you risk relying on unworthy sources.
Let's pretend your about to leave on a 3 day mission where you are planning on skiing some epic steep terrain, give us a rundown of the contents of your pack.
- Got to firstly have a good pack to carry your gear comfortably to take what you need.
- Ensure you have a great shelter that is bomber construction tent wise or maybe plan to build a snow cave.
- Sleeping bag and sleep mat for a restful slumber to ensure you're rested to bust some more moves each day.
- Lots of good nutritious food for energy and to ensure you can hike line after line which in some cases is over a kilometer long, e.g. on Watsons Crags.
- Clothing and good layers to ensure you are prepared for all conditions from winter blizzards to Aussie spring sunshine.
- Repair gear for the backcountry to ensure you can stay out no matter what, and make the most of what the mountains can throw at you.
Without giving up any tightly guarded secrets, where are your favourite spots for a quick day trip, and a multi day mission that accesses some nice steep terrain?
I am a big fan of the South Ramsheads and alternately Guthega trig (all depends on the weather) for day sorties to the fresh.
For multi day missions then I am headed for Mount Tate or Watson's Crags where you can indulge yourself with lots of steep untracked lines and exposure as well as aspects to catch the sun or wind blown.
Thanks a lot for your insights Bruce, no doubt we will see you free-heeling around those hills in the near future...
Wilderness Sports can be found at http://www.wildernesssports.com.au/