Backcountry Fundamentals

Getting Ready for Another Epic Season

Dreams of 10,000 foot days still haunt me, even though I’ve been more likely to bonk or cramp up after climbing less than half that on backcountry ski tours these past few busy years. So I’m writing this in part to motivate and inspire myself to set bigger goals, take pre-season training more seriously, and have more fun this season once the snow flies and the backcountry snowpack starts to stabilize. Since long hours hunched over a computer, 6-pack swilling, and epic stroller walks don’t exactly make for the best backcountry ski season fitness regimen (my zone of expertise as of late), I enlisted highly motivated and perennially fit local backcountry skier and all-around outdoorsman, Mountain Gear employee, outdoor recreation advocate, and friend Travis Nichols for some thoughts on getting ready for the season ahead.

How many years have you been backcountry skiing?

TN: Since 2002 when I borrowed backcountry skis from EWU’s EPIC Adventures outdoor program and walked out into the wheat fields near campus to take a few turns.

How much vertical do you climb on an average tour?

TN: The vertical always depends on the group, conditions, and objectives, but my goal is by spring to be able to knock out 10,000 feet of climbing in a day and still have energy for more fun the next morning. For kicking off the season, my objective is to balance strength, dynamic energy and cardio—lots of long, slow, distance-covering touring. I’ve learned through injury to wait until later in the season when rocks are covered to take on bigger skiing objectives.


Photo by Jon Jonckers.
Photo: Jon Jonckers

What does your fall training routine look like?

TN: We all know the best way to get prepared is to maintain fitness throughout the year. I aspire toward this but reality is, life gets busy. The less I slide backward the better. I try to fill my summer and fall with activities I love. Staying in motion is one of the biggest principles of success, which may mean dancing, yoga, running, biking, or climbing. Then in the fall I start on strength conditioning and more intense (for me) trail running. The NordicTrack makes its way back into our living room to build hip flexors and the kettlebell comes back into rotation to build core strength.

What other early season rituals do you have to get ready for the backcountry season?

TN: Not watching ski films. Seriously. I get too excited, then I go skiing in the backcountry in December and get hurt. I try to temper my enthusiasm until later in the year when winter fully hits. I also have enjoyed going to the Northwest Snow and Avalanche Workshop in Seattle for the past couple of years. It’s a little geeky but it’s the presentation of the latest research on snow science. That’s my way to get in the right mindset of snow safety, risk management, and how to start building new information into my practice. I also go to other snow safety events here in the Inland Northwest, re-read the classic snow safety literature, and get out with others to practice with my avalanche beacon. //



Stoked on Backcountry Skiing or Splitboarding? Don’t Miss These Pre-season Events

The Essentials for Backcountry Skiing

October 18, Mountain Gear (2002 N. Division, Spokane)

Join Mountain Gear, G3, and Scarpa to learn about the gear required to transition from inbounds skiing to backcountry touring. This is a great opportunity to learn the basics and ask questions you may not have had the chance to ask in a friendly setting. All participants will take home a free G3 ski strap, and there will be a silent auction benefitting the Northwest Avalanche Center. This free event runs from 7-9 p.m., with an rsvp required at

13th Annual Winter Wildlands Alliance Backcountry Film Festival

December 1, Panida Theater, Sandpoint (6-9 p.m.)

The Winter Wildlands Alliance Backcountry Film Festival, produced by the Boise-based nonprofit, Winter Wildlands Alliance, includes a series of inspiring films celebrating the human-powered backcountry ski and snowboard experience. This event serves as a great pre-season gathering place for some of the Inland Northwest’s most passionate backcountry riders, and you won’t leave without being stoked beyond belief for the good times waiting in the mountains this winter. Sandpoint-based Selkirk Outdoor Leadership & Education (aka SOLE) hosts the film festival in Sandpoint each year to raise funding for its Snow School Experience program, which is part of the nation’s largest on-snow outdoor science program. //

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