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Backcountry Touring Talks

Aside from having some of the best inbounds terrain in the southern hemisphere, Hotham also plays host to some world-class backcountry skiing and snowboarding. 

Article by Drew Jolowicz

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Harry
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All the rage

Currently backcountry travel is the fastest growing sector of the industry with more and more people venturing beyond the ropes.  This has been aided by a dramatic improvement in touring equipment.  Skis and boards are lighter and touring bindings stronger and easier to use.

One of the main allures of touring at Hotham is the resorts location and ease of access to backcountry zones.  With the village being located atop the mountain, many lines can be reached with short traverses.  Meaning you get to make the turns before you earn them. Below you’ll find some tips and tricks to make your backcountry experience safer and more rewarding.

Product considerations:  Short tours or long tours?  Backcountry travel mixed with resort riding?  Ascending efficiency or robust downhill performance?  These questions have to be considered and will influence product choices.  Traditional frame bindings are sturdier for descents however this comes at cost with extra weight for the uphill slog.   Newer pin bindings combined with hybrid boots offer a dramatic reduction in weight for climbing.  If your looking to spend multiple days out in the field the newer light weight equipment will offer the best performance.

Skin care:  This can make or break your trip.  There’s nothing worse than having skins fail miles from the trailhead.  When transitioning try to keep your skins as dry as possible.  Avoid lying them down in the snow.  Try to look after the adhesive surface as much as possible by ensuring it is dirt and dust free.  At days end hang your skins up to dry (glue side facing out) in a warm room.  

Troubleshooting tip: If skins do become too wet and cold place them close to the body inside your jacket to warm them up.  This can aid better adhesion to ski bases.  If all else fails a ski strap can be used to attach the skin to a ski or split-board.


Safety first:  When packing for a tour there is always a balance between being prepared and carrying excessive weight.  For shorter trips smaller packs and less equipment is required.  As a minimum the following should be carried when venturing beyond the boundaries:

  •  Beacon, shovel and probe

  • Water and food (energy rich snacks)

  • Basic first aid kit

  • Boot or ski crampons (if travelling through steep icy terrain)

  •  Maps and compass

  •  Spare breathable layer of clothing (e.g. merino thermal top)

Schools in, get educated:  With the ever-growing popularity of backcountry exploration, the desire to increase knowledge and education is also increasing.  We’re lucky here at Hotham with the resources and programs on offer this year.  This season sees the launch of a backcountry tour program.  There are introductory tours available as well as fully customised private tours for the more experienced.  Visit www.mthotham.com.au for details with bookings being made through the Hotham Ski and Ride School.

For those looking to increase their knowledge of snow science and avalanche safety, Alpine Access Australia are also offering AST 1 courses at Hotham this season.  For details visit www.alpineaccessaustralia.com.au.

In addition to this Hotham will be playing host to the Victorian Backcountry Festival September 7/8.  This weekend will be jam- packed full of workshops, tours and talks all aimed at improving safety and education.  For all the festival low down visit www.backcountry-festival.com.  

Trip planning; goal setting:  This is key and often overlooked.  Ensure the tour objective is realistic and achievable.  Give yourself a time buffer and ensure that for longer tours a trip intention is lodged with Ski Patrol, or family and friends.  The following should be taken into account when planning a tour:

  • Current weather forecast

  • Snow conditions (www.mountainsportscollective.org is a great resource for up to date backcountry advisories)

  • Group dynamics (ability, fitness levels etc.)

  • Be adaptable have a plan B

With winter in full swing up here, the time is now to begin venturing off the beaten track.  It’s an exciting time to be a backcountry enthusiast at Hotham; hit the skin track this season and explore your outer frontiers.  


              


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