Backcountry Skiing May Be An Alternative For Seniors.

Backcountry can be a destination for seniors, especially with new equipment. Credit: Paul Foy
Backcountry can be a destination for seniors, especially with new lightweight equipment.
Credit: Paul Foy

It’s getting crowded on the slopes. Lift lines can be agonizingly long, the runs denuded of soft powder. You’re looking over a shoulder trying to avoid getting clobbered by someone else. Is that any way for an older skier to enjoy the sport?

Maybe it’s time to venture into backcountry. Equipment on display at the recent Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City had plenty of boots that walk naturally and bindings that free the heel for backcountry travel. Skis are easier to turn in many categories and are lighter on the foot.

Nearly every major ski brand is offering equipment that can do double duty at resorts and off-piste. Technology advances (and some lifts) are leading skiers into the wild or the resort’s side country. One problem is that backcountry bindings didn’t always stand up to a more aggressive style of resort skiing on hard snow and in moguls. But that is changing. The new binding systems, like Marker’s Kingpin or Fritschi Diamir’s Viper, are designed to close the gap.

Dynafit has long been the backcountry leader in ski equipment, but others are catching up with beefier versions of its classic pin binding, which allows skiers to naturally flex their legs for cross-country travel.

With its patent expired, Dynafit’s basic design has been widely copied with variations making it safer for less forgiving resort slopes. The company has beefed-up versions of the pin binding for safer boot retention, a critical feature for the hybrid ski category.

Backcountry skiers also need mohair or synthetic climbing skins that stick to the bottom of a ski, giving a skier traction to move uphill or cover distance easy. They peel off quickly for the downhill run.

Alternatively, Voile sells a touring ski that comes with traction scales embedded in the base. The so-called Vector ski glides with a grip on flat or gently rising terrain.

There’s a big safety concern for backcountry travel, addressed by another category of equipment. Anyone venturing deep into mountain wilderness needs avalanche training, a beacon to transmit their position under snow, a probe to find and a shovel to dig out a ski buddy.

First-timers can aim for gentle slopes, away from avalanche zones, or in resort side country cleared of dangers. But navigating backcountry terrain can be tricky. Earlier this winter in Utah, safety experts triggered deep avalanches from hundreds of yards away, just by stomping on their skis.

If you are looking for a new challenge, learning about and gearing up for backcountry skiing might be your next one.


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