Before You Leave the Car - Backcountry Tips

Skins, Skis, Stoke

There are aspects of trip planning that are equivocal to paying for insurance; you won’t recognize the benefits until shit hits the fan, and at that point you’ll be your own best friend.

Last year, on a trip up the icefields parkway, my partner and I decided on a quick yo-yo up Bow Summit. We’d studied the forecast and avalanche bulletin the night before, had kept up-to-date with recent conditions, completed our head-to-toe checklist, tested our beacons, and frankly felt we’d nailed the pre-trip checklist. It wasn’t until walking up that I fell into my usual black hole of internal “what would you do if?” debates than a thought hit me: “I can’t drive standard!.” 

While an embarrassing proclamation, the fact was that if anything were to happen to my partner and I were to need to get help, I’d be incapable of driving his car the thirty minutes required to get cell service. While practicing dissolving your partner’s clutch is one way to improve your trip plan, here is a pre-trip checklist to keep in mind before walking away from the car. 

    1. Send someone your trip plan. If you lose service before arriving at your destination, this may need to happen sooner. It’s still worth discussing as Spot and InReach devices gain traction, telling someone your plan is still the only full proof method of ensuring someone is notified if you do not return on schedule. Many will advise you to leave a note on your car with your plan and expected date of return - some would argue this is an invite to thieves to rob your car - this is up to your discretion. 
    2. Store backup supplies in car. In the case that someone becomes injured on your trip, it’s important to understand that an immediate evacuation isn’t always possible. Keeping your car stocked with extra supplies in case of the need to return to stock up before returning to your partner is a simple and easy precaution to take. Think: a sleeping bag, spare puffy, extra food, a stove and water. 
    3. Discuss logistics with your team. Who has the keys? Where are they located? Who can drive? Where is the nearest service point? Does anyone have a first aid kit? Is anyone carrying a Spot/InReach - does everyone know how to use it? What time should you be back at the car? Is there enough daylight to leave a window for contingency? Answer these questions out loud in your group so everyone is informed. 
    4. Head-to-toe check. Pick a member of your group to list all the gear you should be leaving the car with that may not be on your person, systematically from your head to toe. This may seem silly, but so is forgetting that extra pair of gloves or snacks you’d stashed in the slip behind the front seat earlier. 
    5. Debrief. Even the highest level professionals who get out every day of the season start every day with a debrief. Your group should spend at least a few minutes sharing their findings of recent conditions and forecast before leaving the car, highlighting the key potential hazards of the day.

About Ross Berg

Ross has guided, climbed and skied in the European Alps for the last several seasons. When he's at home he can be found working as a heli ski guide in winters and climbing alpine rock routes in summer.

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