To celebrate an incredible winter season, with great snow still in the mountains for our friends in the Northern US and Canada, we thought it might be fitting to welcome YC Trailblazer, J.D. ter Hart for an Instagram takeover this past weekend!
He was kind enough to share tips on how to prepare for, and thoroughly enjoy, a backcountry snow trip, along with some incredible shots from his recent adventure in the backcountry of beautiful Alberta, Canada. Here’s a recap…enjoy!
Hello, my name is @jdterhart and I am excited to be sharing some shots from a recent backcountry snowshoe trip here in my home province of Alberta, Canada. As an ambassador for Yukon Charlies, I am passionate about both spending time outdoors and educating others on how to safely enjoy snowshoeing while traveling off the beaten path.
Over the next couple days I will be sharing tips on how to prepare, what to expect during the actual trip, and how to get the most out of a weekend excursion to the backcountry. I hope that the knowledge I share is helpful and beneficial to anyone interested in spending more time in remote areas! Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or send me a personal message with any questions that you may have – I will be sure to answer everyone that takes the time to reach out to me.
The most important safety tip I can share about spending time in the backcountry is the massive importance of proper preparation. This may seem simple and obvious, but true preparation involves extensive pre-trip planning that ensures a person or group is completely ready for a wide variety of situations that can occur when traveling to or from a location – and obviously during the time spent outside itself. The biggest risk of traveling into the backcountry (especially alone) is isolation: without a means of contact, if something happens, we are left to deal with the situation on hand (emergency or otherwise) with only the materials we have with us. If pre-trip planning is handled correctly with upmost respect for the elements in mind, it helps to ensure that even in worst case scenarios, we still have plenty of options.
Before I leave on any trip, the first questions I ask myself are : 1- “Is the expected weather suitable/safe for both travel AND outdoor activity?” and 2- “What are the snow/avalanche conditions in the exact area I am visiting?” Do not underestimate the importance of honestly evaluating both of those points. Just 2-3 weeks ago a couple from the eastern United States took a trip up to Lake Louise to snowshoe (about 1.5 hours away from where this photo was taken) and didn’t properly check the snow report. Unfortunately, even though they had just planned a simple day trip, they were tragically killed in an avalanche. All it takes to endanger either yourself or others is one small lapse in judgement.
If I decide the weather and snow reports are favorable, I then proceed to map out an exact route (directions and potential trail checkpoints broken down into 1 hour increments), pack a bag with emergency supplies (including avalanche shovel, GPS, transponder, first aid kit, water, food, matches, 1 set of dry clothes, etc.), and plenty of warm materials in my car itself in case of mechanical issues (blankets, bedding, extra jacket, wool hat). Before departing, I also ensure that I tell at least 2 people my exact trip/route plan, including expected time spent in each area of the trail and what time I plan on coming back into cell range on my way back home. That way, if something does go wrong, at least someone in a location with access to outside help can take the necessary steps to send assistance.
Happy to be back for a second day and share some more insight on traveling through the backcountry on snowshoes.
Today, I want to focus a bit more on the technical aspects of moving through isolated areas. The first thing I want to mention is how important utilizing the heel lift (located directly behind the heel where your foot rests on the snowshoe itself) when traveling across uneven ground or terrain that has a lot of elevation gain. The key to safely traversing these areas is slow, confident movement – you never want to be caught off balance or worrying about how stable your footing is. The heel lift really helps to keep everything centered on any type of slope and allows your focus to shift to other more important things: like the view!
One major thing I noticed during my most recent trip into the backcountry was the fantastic traction provided by the forged steel crampons – they are clearly effective on a wide variety of terrain. I often like to think a bit outside the box and usually end up traveling across hard snow, soft snow, and everything in between. On this particular trip, the bottom of the canyon was frozen solid. I like to travel as light as possible, and it was fantastic not to have to worry about changing transportation methods as I moved from snow to ice. I was happily surprised at how stable my footing was, and enjoyed wandering the frozen ground for hours.
The last thing that I wanted to briefly discuss about traveling through the backcountry is the importance of layers. There have been many, many times where I have needed to either add or remove multiple articles of clothing – all in the span of just a few hours. Snowshoeing, like all outdoor activities, is about having fun and enjoying the wonder of nature. This is extremely hard to do if you are suffering from extreme cold OR heat.
I usually am the type of person who would rather be too warm than too cold, but overheating has been a serious problem for me – especially in the spring. Make sure to bring enough options that you can comfortably add or remove clothing to find that perfect body temperature range. Additionally, wet sweaty clothing may not be that noticeable during periods of sunshine – but easily becomes more problematic if clouds roll in or the sun begins to set.