How to dress for backcountry skiing

By: Lake Tahoe Staff

Backcountry Skier Lake Tahoe

Briana Biller

I wore every piece of clothing from my backpack during a recent backcountry ski trip in Tahoe. In addition to wearing my base layers and snow pants, I added:

  • A ski jacket
  • A wind-blocking thermal hoody
  • A rain jacket
  • A wind resistant jacket

The weather changed so severely throughout the day that I was changing my clothes about every 15 minutes to maintain a comfortable body temperature while climbing, summiting, and then descending.

I was able to find a good balance in my layering with my body creating enough heat from climbing, so I didn’t have to have too many layers on. About 300 vertical feet from the top of the mountain we stopped and layered up completely. The visibility was about 25 feet and the wind was blowing at a constant 45 mph, snow blowing in our faces.

As we made our way to the summit we were blown into rocks and had to find shelter in snow drifts to transition from climbing mode into ski mode. Once in ski mode, I put my pack on my back and pointed my skis downhill. The wind was blowing so hard it was keeping me from going downhill. I had to pole myself through the wind and duck down to get out of the wind.

Once off the ridge, it got much better and we were able to enjoy our turns down into the trees. We got back to the car and the visibility was completely clear, the sky was gorgeous and there was hardly a breeze.

We learned a few good lessons that day about backcountry skiing.

  1. Pick your terrain wisely. Check the forecast and opt for somewhere sheltered on windy days.
  2. Take the time to stay comfortable in your clothing. Having the right layers and clothing makes a world of difference to keep you going.
  3. Always be prepared in your gear choices. In the mountains the weather can turn instantly, as we experienced. Have base layers, a couple pairs of gloves in case one gets wet, a couple different jackets for each type of weather, and something to cover your head (helmet or beanie). And don’t be afraid to take the time to change your layers as you play in the back country to keep yourself comfortable.
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