At one time (30 or more years ago) backcountry skiing meant donning knickers and anoraks and heading off the beaten track on long, narrow skis. Skins that strapped on to your skis allowed you to travel uphill by preventing you from slipping backward.
These early versions of skins didn’t always work well and they would often slip off your ski just at the most inconvenient times. Fifteen years ago backcountry skiers often used telemark gear to access new areas in search of powder snow. As well skis began to get wider and ski boots changed from leather to plastic. Skin makers dropped their annoying straps in favour of using a special glue which worked a lot better.
More recently as ski areas have expanded its terrain to include powder-filled bowls and steep chutes, backcountry skiing began to change. Today people head off from the ski lifts in many western ski resorts across Canada to search out side country or slack country powder stashes. These might be reached by a 15-30 minute skin ascent to a new bowl or an area just outside the ski area boundary.
Many mainstream ski-binding manufacturers have jumped on board and now feature alpine touring bindings which allow skiers to ski uphill (with the aid of skins) but then the bindings clamp down like a regular alpine binding for the descent. By catering to an existing market of alpine skiers this has opened the backcountry to a large group of skiers that are already familiar with alpine gear and ski technique. This has meant that skiers didn’t have to buy a set of telemark gear and learn a new turn to explore the backcountry. On our recent visit to Whistler, B.C. in early February we saw lots of people in the lift lines sporting these new backcountry or alpine touring bindings. You could see shovels and avalanche probes sticking out of their backpacks and lines of skiers skinning off to bowls outside the ski area boundary.
Now at Marble Mountain you see these alpine touring bindings showing up on skiers that one day might be skiing Marble and the next day might be heading to the Blow Me Down Mountains or Tablelands for some backcountry skiing.
The Blow Me Down Valley is one area that is close to Corner Brook and is seeing more traffic from backcountry skiers although we have also seen snowshoers exploring the lower slopes. Our last trip in there was in mid-January when we went into check the snow stability and snow depths with Trevor Beck and Andrew Stokes.
Our trip started from the parking lot that summer hikers use to head into Blow Me Down Brook. We put on skins for the three kilometre traverse to the bowl. The trail is somewhat marked with flagging tape, but the open forest makes route finding pretty easy. On that trip we made a few runs in variable powder snow after checking out the snow stability. This area is scenic and can have some great skiing, but beware that it is called Blow Me Down for a reason.
There is more information on our blog at http://keithnicol.blogspot.ca/2013/01/early-season-ski-touring-in-blow-me.html which details GPS grid references and other information. Skiers and snowboarders are beginning to explore more and more of western Newfoundland’s backcountry and the following facebook site can be checked out to see what people have been up to: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Backcountry-skiing-in-Western-Newfoundland/139287202856630.
Contributors Keith and Heather Nicol live in Corner Brook and are avid explorers of Newfoundland. Keith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org