If you love the snow, skiing, and a more-rugged-than-usual terrain to ski on, then National Backcountry Ski Day on March 4 is the holiday for you. Backcountry skiing, which is simply skiing on more rugged, ungroomed, and natural ground than the average ski resort trail, is becoming more and more popular in the U.S. It’s in enough demand that multiple states provide people with various backcountry ski trails, either attached to resorts, inside national park boundaries, or in another appropriate location. So, anyone with a hankering to jump on their skis and take a turn down a backcountry trail has a lot of choices on their hands.
History of National Backcountry Ski Day
Like many good things, skiing was also — first — a purely functional invention. It was invented by the Nordic people and was initially only used as a means of transport. One of the most famous American examples of this use has to be Snowshoe Thompson — a Norwegian-American who used skis to deliver the mail over and around the Sierra Nevada mountains all through his 20-year career. He carried almost 80 pounds worth of mail and took up to five days per trip.
Over time, this functional tool began to be used for fun and adventure too. More and more people picked up skis for recreational activities rather than simply making use of them for transport. Ski resorts began using ropes, chairlifts, and other tools to make the uphill hike easier for skiers. The first rope tow in the U.S. was introduced at the “Suicide Six Ski Resort,” Vermont, in January 1934. Until this time, by default, many trails were backcountry trails, in the strictest definition. By the 1930s, however, there was a distinct separation between resort skiing and backcountry skiing. Skiers flooded places with modern advancements in ski design and conveniences. Backcountry skiing took a backseat in most places across the U.S., and after a while, in Europe too.
A special invention in the 1960s spurred more interest in backcountry skiing — snowboarding. While it was banned from most ski resorts at the time, and only began gaining in popularity 20 years later, those with an interest in this sport were forced to backcountry trails, and mainstream resorts and places did not offer spots to practice snowboarding.
Another factor contributing to the huge jump in people interested in this sport has been the rising costs. Ski resorts and their added conveniences are sometimes too expensive, making a backcountry trail the more attractive option of the two. And then, multiple improvements in equipment and safety measures have brought backcountry skiing back into the limelight. There are more people than ever interested in this sport.
The day was co-founded by Peter Arlein, the CEO of mountainFLOW — a company making eco-friendly ski and snowboard wax products. According to Arlein — since his company was making products that encouraged people to try backcountry sports — it was also their responsibility to promote safe backcountry practices. This sentiment factors into the celebrations held on this day. Many planned events on this day are encouraged to also include avalanche awareness and appropriate safety instructions for backcountry skiing enthusiasts of all levels.
National Backcountry Ski Day timeline
Infant prince and heir apparent — Haakon Haakonsson — is carried to safety by a pair of military skiers during a civil war in Norway — today, their bravery is commemorated by multiple cross-country ski races in Norway.
Skiing is originally believed to exclusively be a man's sport, and women are instead encouraged to take up ice skating.
The “Strand Magazine” publishes ‘An Alpine Pass on Ski’ by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which relates his March expedition to Switzerland — it becomes something of an anthem for many backcountry skiers.
A market research finding shows sales of multiple backcountry accessories like shovels and avalanche beacons have gone up by 87%, while special backcountry touring equipment like boots and bindings see a 115% increase in sales.
Archaeologists find the second half of a pair of ancient skis — wooden, and even their bindings are mostly intact — in southern Norway, which they believe were created 13,000 years ago.
National Backcountry Ski Day FAQs
What does ‘backcountry’ mean in skiing?
Backcountry skiing means skiing in rugged and secluded areas, on pristine trails outside the purview of ski resorts.
What state has the best backcountry skiing?
Multiple states like California, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Alaska, Washington, and others have good backcountry ski spots worth exploring.
How heavy should backcountry skis be?
Backcountry skis should typically weigh around 5.5 to 8 pounds, but this also depends on your height and weight.
National Backcountry Ski Day Activities
Take up skiing lessons
Find places that offer skiing lessons — and maybe a guided backcountry tour or two — and sign up. Since avalanche safety is a key part of backcountry skiing, you could also check out various safety and awareness programs online.
Choose your ski spot
Once you've gained sufficient experience in skiing, research which place offers the best backcountry ski experience. Plan a visit around National Backcountry Ski Day to get a look at the slopes and trails.
Test your backcountry skiing skills
Enjoy a day of backcountry skiing on various slopes and trails. Make sure your safety kit is up-to-date, and your senses are tuned to any potential avalanches.
5 Fun Facts About Backcountry Skiing
Backcountry skiing goes by different names
It is called alpine touring or out-of-area in parts of the world and 'off-piste' in Europe.
Why avalanche gear is crucial
Avalanches cause around one fatality per month in the U.S., and accidents have also occurred in various backcountry skiing spots.
Backcountry skiing and ski resorts
While many European and Canadian ski resorts permit visitors to go off-route, ski resorts in the U.S. have different rules depending on the regulations in their specific area.
The first snowboard sold in America
To entertain his daughters, engineer Sherman Poppen of Muskegon, Michigan, fashions old skis into a new device called the 'snurfer' — a combination of 'snow' and 'surfer'.
A snowboard that splits into two
Brett Kobernik makes a prototype of a device that transforms the backcountry experience and allows people to travel where they want — uphill or downhill — with just one piece of equipment.
Why We Love National Backcountry Ski Day
It is a transformative experience
Few experiences are as freeing as skiing, and backcountry skiing takes this to a whole new level. Untouched and challenging routes create an adventurous snowy playground just for you.
It's all about the uphill climb
Backcountry skiing is around 80% uphill climbing to get to downhill skiing. While it does take a slight shift in mentality to appreciate the uphill climb, doing so helps us appreciate the slower pace of walking up the mountain. And who knows, you might meet some elusive wildlife and plants along the way!
Backcountry skiing is also meditative
Away from the noise of the city, and even the resort, backcountry skiing is a very physical sport that is all the more intimate because it is just you and Mother Nature. No ski patrol, attendants, or resort staff insight.
National Backcountry Ski Day dates