New backcountry skiing program offered by Snow Mountain Ranch |

New backcountry skiing program offered by Snow Mountain Ranch

YMCA Nordic Center volunteer Jim Michler rides through some deep powder during a recent Intro to Backcountry Skiing course at Snow Mountain Ranch.
Courtesy photo |

Getting into backcountry skiing is a daunting endeavor but thanks to a new program offered by Snow Mountain Ranch in Grand County novice powder hounds can dip their toes into the backcountry, without breaking the bank.

Backcountry skiing is expensive and dangerous. The gear and training required to keep a person safe can easily reach several thousand dollars and the danger level is high. On top of all that, if you do not have friends or mentors to take you out into the wilderness you could easily end up frozen beneath an avalanche with no hope of rescue.

There are a few options for budding backcountry enthusiasts. A good entry point is the free avalanche awareness classes that are often offered at the start of ski season in Grand County. But from there the next step in education is a Level 1 Avalanche Course. Level 1 courses are typically several hundred dollars, and that does not include the cost of gear.

Grand County’s YMCA property recognized the need for something in between and last year the local resort created a new program called “Intro to Backcountry A/T Skiing”. The program offers folks the opportunity to get into backcountry skiing at a reasonable price. Each course costs a little over $100 per person and includes a trail pass, backcountry instructor/guide, lunch and backcountry ski gear – including boots, skis, skins and avalanche beacon setups.

Elliot Leslie is heading up the program for YMCA. According to Leslie each backcountry outing starts with a brief classroom presentation to familiarize participants with some of the basics of backcountry travel like slope angle, terrain traps, and safe backcountry travel practices as well as the basics of backcountry group dynamics.

From there Leslie reviews avalanche beacon operations and the fundamentals of transitioning from skinning up trails to skiing down slopes. After reviewing the basics Leslie then leads each class, typically numbering four or five students, out onto the trails of the YMCA property.

“After we are geared up we start heading out,” Leslie said. “We basically skin away from the Nordic Center and stay on the snowshoe trails. We spend the day out there and stay as long as people want to. Last week we started at 8:30 a.m. and finished up at about 3:30 p.m.”

If you are interested in signing up a course at Snow Mountain Ranch check out their website,, and search for “Intro to Backcountry Skiing”.

Leslie said he has four more dates scheduled over February and March with open slots for each class still available. Leslie said he would hold classes on unscheduled dates as well, as long as at least two students are signed up for classes.

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