Getting Into Backcountry Skiing

The Elevated Alpine

**Editor's Note: This article was originally published on by author Corey Aretakis and has been edited slightly for Neptune Mountaineering. You can feel the full article here.

The Elevated Alpine is a community of mountain-minded women focused on elevating women in the outdoors. Follow The Elevated Alpine on Facebook and Instagram for gear reviews, blog articles, and upcoming events.**


First off, hell yes! Backcountry skiing is the best, and by seeking out advice, you’re off to a good start. The goal of this intro guide is to help you navigate getting the gear you need and preparing for your first season out. 





  • Before you think about anything else, the most important thing is to understand risks and risk mitigation in the backcountry. This is absolutely essential. You don’t know what you don’t know. So if you don’t know what to look out for in avy terrain, you need to assume that everything is avy terrain. This includes easy-to-access passes like Berthoud and Loveland - just because they are highly trafficked does not mean they don’t have risk. 

  • Hour-long Avy 101 talks are a great starting point to learn the basics of what you need to learn. Lots of organizations host these throughout the Fall on the front-range. Keep an eye out for Friends of Berthoud Pass, Friends of CAIC, Colorado Mountain School.

  • Next, you should schedule your AIARE 1, where you’ll actually learn the basics. This will give you a solid foundation to understanding avy terrain and snowpack, as well as how to keep yourself and your partners safe. 

    • If the price is deterring you, there are a number of scholarships out there to help mitigate the cost of an AIARE 1 course. Check out the AIARE website for an up-to-date list: 

  • Friends of Berthoud Pass (FOBP) one-day, on-the-snow classes and Colorado Mountain School’s one-day Companion Rescue classes are also a great way to get started, particularly if you’d prefer to get comfortable with your gear and learn some basics before doing AIARE 1. If you go that route, we highly recommend doing one or both of these courses. If you do go out after your one-day course and before your AIARE, be sure to go out with experienced partners who can make informed terrain decisions, and use the opportunity to learn from them along the way. Remember that you are ultimately responsible for your own safety. You should not be going into the backcountry unless you know what you are doing and what you are getting yourself into.



A backcountry-specific setup will go a long way. Go for something that’ll suit a range of conditions, from pow to crud. You’ll need skis, bindings, boots, skins, poles, a beacon, a shovel, and a probe. Here are some high level things to consider. We'll dig into these more in-depth later on in this article. 

  1. Skis: look for mid-sized (~105-110mm underfoot) backcountry-specific skis that can handle a variety of conditions. We love DPS Yvettes and Atomic Backlands

  2. Bindings: backcountry bindings have come a long way in the last few years, and there are lots of great options. Consider your skiing style, your weight, and your preferred tradeoff between performance and weight when deciding between a full tech or a tech/alpine hybrid binding. Some great options are Marker Alpinists (tech) and Marker Kingpins (tech/alpine hybrid). 

  3. Boots: backcountry boots are about to be your new best friend. Try on options in a store with good boot fitters, and figure out what works best for your feet. Look for something relatively lightweight, and consider the range of motion and flex. We love Scarpa Gea RS,' Technica Zero-Gs, and Dynafit Hoji Pro Tours.

  4. Skins: We are big fans of Pomoca skins! Trust us….we’ve tested a handful of skins and think these are the best. However, they do come with a best-in-class price tag! Check out Black Diamond skins for more price conscious options.

  5. Poles: Get telescopic poles with powder baskets, like the Black Diamond Traverse Adjustable Ski Poles. Adjustable poles come in handy when you are switching off between skinning (longer pole length) and skiing (shorter pole length).

  6. Safety gear: You absolutely need a beacon, shovel, and probe, and to know how to use them. Consider a three-antenna beacon, a backcountry-specific shovel, and at least a two-meter probe. Avy bags can be a great added safety measure, though they not an absolute essential.




  • First, think about how you plan on using these skis. For your first backcountry ski, you’re probably looking for a one-ski quiver to use all winter, all conditions. With that in mind, here are some things to look out for: 

    1. Waist width: for an every day ski, 100mm underfoot can usually serve as a good one-ski quiver. Depending on how you like to ski, +/- 10mm can still do the job well. Keep in mind that weight can make a huge difference. Since ~80% of your day will be spent skinning, you may choose to err on the lighter side of what you might choose for an everyday resort ski. 

    2. Weight: to reiterate, remember, you’ll be spending ~80% of your day going uphill. We recommend looking at skis designed for the backcountry - these tend to be much lighter than resort skis, which we promise you’ll be grateful for. Most manufacturers either make separate backcountry lines or backcountry versions of each ski. 

    3. Performance: the tradeoff of weight tends to be performance. Read reviews on the skis you’re looking at, and look specifically for how they handle things like hardpack and crud but also powder. Unlike the resort, it is very common to encounter variable conditions in the backcountry. You’ll want a ski that can handle anything you come across. Skis that are ski-mo oriented are likely to be further on the spectrum of the tradeoff of weight vs. performance; if you’re strictly looking to ski rather than skimo race, stick with skis marketed for backcountry rather than skimo. If you like to nerd out about the technologies, also pay attention to the engineering - ski manufacturers get creative with the materials and composition of lightweight + high performance backcountry skis, which can ultimately have a huge impact on performance. 


    1. DPS Yvette Tour: super playful ski with a great weight:performance ratio

    2. Atomic Backlands: these skis come in a Women’s option. We haven’t noticed a huge difference between the construction of these vs the mens, however, you might find a more preferable length or topsheet with the women’s version.

Browse Neptune's Backcountry Ski Collection



    • The main considerations here are how you like to ski, how focused you are on a lightweight set-up, and ease of use. Tech binding technology has skyrocketed over the last few years, leaving us with tons of options. They generally fall into 4 categories: 

      1. Full tech: Full tech (pin) bindings are the traditional backcountry binding: pin toe, pin heel. Your heel gets locked in with a fork that goes into the heel of your boot, and the toe is secured by two pins on either side of your toes. These will generally ski more rigidly than alpine bindings, but there have been some solid advances here in the last few years. If you’re looking for more of an alpine binding feel, look for bindings with adjustable forward pressure and heel elasticity. Also look out for those that have din options -  in this style that’s usually just a different fork in the heel. However it can add some customization to your size and ski style and help make pin bindings ski more safely and comfortably for you.

        1. For many full tech bindings, you can choose to mount them with or without brakes. Leashes can be a great alternative to brakes, so there is less to fumble with at transitions and your setup will be lighter overall.

        2. Note there’s another sub-category under this for skimo/ultralight - you can get super minimal with these if you’re really focused on shedding weight. Just keep in mind, these are more oriented for skimo than everyday backcountry skiing.


            1. Marker Alpinists: Alpinists crush. Resident hucker Sara Robbins recommends these as an everyday binding, which is a great testament. Secure, just the right elasticity, and the ability to swap the heel fork to fit your needs (din of 6, 9, 12), these ski shockingly well for a full tech binding. 

            2. Dynafit ST Radicals: Fun fact, Dynafit invented the tech toe (pin) so you know they are going to make a great binding. 

      2. Tech toe / alpine heel: Tech toe/alpine heel bindings can be a great middle ground between alpine-like performance and weight. They have a bit more elasticity than a pure tech binding, so they’ll generally feel a bit more secure and absorb more on choppy snow. That said, they’re also generally heavier than pure tech bindings, and can have more to fumble with at transitions. If you like to ski super aggressively or just prefer a more alpine-like feel, these can be a great option. 


          1. Marker Kingpin

      3. Tech / alpine transformer: There’s a new category of binding that acts as a pin binding on the uphill while allowing you to go full alpine on the descent by tucking the pins away and engaging a traditional alpine toe. These genuinely ski like a resort binding, and in that regard feel like a dream. That said, they’re heavy and in our experience freeze up and can be difficult to transition. If you’re looking for a rowdy binding that you can huck on or just want a super solid alpine feel, these can be a great option albeit maybe overkill. 


          1. There are really only two options here: the Shift and the Marker Duke PT. The Shift is marketed separately by Salomon, Armada, and Atomic, but they are the exact same binding, just with a different logo (so just buy the cheapest option or the brand you like the most). The Shift transforms to engage the component you want for the uphill vs downhill, while with the Duke PT you actually remove the alpine toe piece and toss it in your bag on the way down. We don’t have experience with the Duke PT, but it seems to introduce some classic splitboard binding issues that could impact usability: too many parts to fumble with and fasteners that risk freezing in the cold. The Shifts will be a heavier option, but they do ski like a true resort binding on the downhill.

      4. Frame bindings: Frame bindings are full alpine bindings that sit on a plate that you can detach from the ski to pivot at the toe. Candidly, we’d only recommend frame bindings if you’re lukewarm on getting into backcountry and really just want to dip your toe with a resort set-up before committing. These are heavy, and much less ergonomic while you’re skinning. Even if you’re buying a set-up to use both in-bounds and in the backcountry, something like a Kingpin, Tecton, or Shift will probably fit the bill better all-around. 

      5. Trekkers: trekkers can be a great way to test the water using your alpine gear. These attach to your alpine bindings, and operate similarly to a frame binding. They have the same downsides as frame bindings, but can help you to get out and see if the backcountry is for you without needing to buy all new gear. 

    Browse Bindings at Neptune



          • Boot preferences can be really individual based on the anatomy of your feet. Be sure to try boots on before buying.

          • When you’re looking at boots, there are a few things to consider: 

            1. Fit:

              1. Toe spacing: you should have enough space to wiggle your toes and to not have them hit the front when you walk around. You want some space to avoid jamming your toes and to let your feet to swell while you’re skinning (because that will happen a bit). This likely means they won’t fit as snugly in your toes as your alpine boots. You may also prefer a looser fitting boot in the backcountry since you may be spending a lot of time in them.

              2. Volume: Your feet should feel secure without feeling constricted. You want them to feel connected and in control of your stance while skiing, without jeopardizing your circulation. 

              3. Heel hug: when you’re skinning, you want your heel to stay in place in the boot to avoid blisters. Make sure that when you flex and extend your ankles, your heels stay in place. Getting your liner molded can help with this. 

            2. Flex: The flex of the boot is how stiff it is in ski mode. Note that backcountry boots tend to be a bit softer than alpine boots and including a walk mode in a boot will naturally compromise the flex rating slightly. Because of this, you may want to consider a higher flex than you normally would for the same feel. Flex ranges from 50-140, though most womens boots are in the range of 90-130. <90 will be a softer boot, 90-105 is moderate, and 110+ is generally high performance. Note that some backcountry boots geared more towards skimo don’t have flex ratings.

            3. Range of motion: Backcountry boots have designated ski and walk modes. Walk mode in backcountry boots will probably make you never want to go back to alpine boots again! Some boots have more range of motion in their walk mode than others. This is measured in degrees - be sure to test this when you try boots on, and think through how comfortable you think they’ll be while skinning.

            4. Binding compatibility: While most backcountry boots are compatible with most backcountry bindings, there are some exceptions. More skimo oriented boots tend to have smaller lips on the toe and heel, which limits their compatibility with bindings with an alpine heel or toe (eg. Kingpins, Tectons, Shifts, or frame bindings). You can usually get an adapter to solve this for the heel (eg to use Kingpins or Tectons), but you can’t do so for the toe (eg to use Shifts). Take this into consideration if you plan on getting one of those bindings or skimo boots.

          • If you’re looking to test the waters but still plan on skiing mostly at the resort, there are also alpine boots with interchangeable soles to make them compatible with backcountry bindings. These are generally more alpine oriented: heavier, stiffer, less luxurious walk mode, but can be a good option if you’re not looking to dive all-in to backcountry. Keep in mind, they aren’t the easiest to swap out so this might only be a good option if you plan to swap them out every once in a while.


            1. Scarpa GEA RS: high performance women’s boot. Great for both the uphill and downhill.

            2. Tecnica Zero-G (Tour or Scout - don’t be fooled by the “men’s” label): lightweight, high performance, low volume boot. The Scout has a ladies version that lands lower on your calf and has a flex of 115. The Tour only comes in a men’s version, but goes down to small sizes (starting at a 22.0) and is still low volume, great for narrow feet. It rises higher on your calf and has a flex of 130.

            3. Dynafit Hoji Pro Tour: lightweight, high performance, higher volume women’s specific boot. Flex isn’t advertised, but is around 115-120. Note that these are compatible with tech bindings only, though you can add a heel adapter to make them work for bindings with an alpine heel (eg. Kingpins and Tectons). We particularly love the Hojis’ streamlined walk mode system - changing from walk mode to ski mode also adjusts the top buckles, providing a one-step boot transition.
        Browse Alpine Touring Boots


            • Skins are an essential part of your backcountry setup. And most of the time they work great, until they don’t and they no longer want to stick to your skis as you are going up that last final stretch of uphill (ugh!). That is why it is important to buy a good pair of skins or at least understand what it is you are buying. Skins can also be a massive weight saver and ultimately affect your glide and efficiency while skinning.

            • Now let’s dig into materials but first… a fun fact: Did you know that backcountry skins used to be made from seal skin? Luckily for the seals, they are now made from artificial materials. But there are a few materials to consider when buying skins and you’ll ultimately want to make your decision based on how you plan to use them. Do you plan to go on long tours and be in the backcountry regularly? Well then, choose a skin that is lighter weight and has good glide. If you are new to the sport, a Nylon skin may be a good option based on its price and durability.

              1. Nylon skins are very durable and offer great grip, however, they tend to lack glide and can be on the bulkier/heavier side. The benefit is that they tend to be more affordable than Mohair or Blend skins.

              2. Mohair skins have a good grip and are lightweight. The downside to these skins can sometimes get bogged down by super wet snow (not the best for a PNW snowpack but do well in dryer snow). Great skins for skimo racing and ultralight setups.

              3. Blend skins are both nylon and mohair blended together. You could say they are the Medium Porridge of skins - just right, for just about anyone. 


              1. Pomoca (literally any of them) - trust us on this one. We’ve tested so many brands of skins and we keep going back to the Pomocas. We’re big fans of the Climb Pro S-Glide (blend 70% Mohair, 30% Nylon) specifically, but they have an awesome “Find Your Skin” feature on their site that allows you to narrow in on a pair that would work for you. They tend to be on the pricier side, but we believe they are worth it! The only downside to these skins is that the tail clips are plastic, this means that the plastic can become brittle on a cold day and can sometimes break when you are ripping skins. We recommend carrying an extra tail clip in your pack, just in case, because this really isn’t a deal breaker, in our opinion!

              2. Black Diamond Glidelite or Ascensions (blend) - these tend to be a popular skin and friendly to your wallet. Black Diamond offers a variety of options in that Blend category. However, when you are fitting the skins to your skis, the tail and tip attachments can be a pain in the rear. Be prepared for that, or bring them to a local ski shop to have them cut and fit for you.



            • Poles are pretty straightforward. A few things to consider:

              1. Adjustable poles can come in handy when you are switching off between skinning (longer pole length) and skiing (shorter pole length).

              2. You’ll want powder baskets so they don’t sink when skinning (eg if you’re looking to use telescopic hiking poles, swap out the baskets). 

              3. Make sure you think the mechanism that allows you to change the length will be workable with gloves on in the cold (most are, but we have seen some that aren’t). 


              1. Black Diamond Traverse

              2. BCA Scepter



            • Safety equipment is one area to be absolutely sure you’re getting the right gear. There are shortcuts available, but they will compromise your safety and that of your partners. The technology is pretty straightforward, just a few things to look out for. 

            • First: you 100% need a beacon, shovel, and probe, and to know how to use them. If your partner gets caught in an avalanche, it will be your job to rescue them (using this gear).

              1. BEACONS: 

                1. Beacons are meant to be compatible with one another, so no worries if your friends have a different brand! Not to get too technical, but you should consider buying a beacon that has 3 antennas. The more antennas, the more accurate the signal. The BCA Tracker 2, is an inexpensive and basic beacon that most beginners will be perfectly fine with. If you want something a bit more technical or you decide you want to have a better multi-burial feature you may upgrade your beacon.

              2. SHOVELS: 

                1. Get a metal shovel specifically designated for backcountry skiing, and make sure you know how to quickly put it together. When you are skiing, ensure you have a way to secure it fully inside your bag (e.g. not on the outside or poking out) so that you don’t risk losing it in a fall or an avalanche. 

              3. PROBES:

                1. Your probe should be at least 2 meters. 240-300 cm is generally considered a happy medium between weight and length. 

                2. Probes are generally either aluminum or carbon. While carbon is lighter, aluminum is easier to push through packed snow (and is generally cheaper).

            • AVY BAGS

              1. Avy bags are a great added safety measure. Note that this is not an absolute essential like the items above, but they’re still a great option. Here are a few things to consider: 

                1. Capacity: Consider what you’ll be using the backpack for, and think about the extra layers etc. you’ll want to have with you in the backcountry. If you’re only looking to do day trips, a 25-35 L pack can be sufficient. If you’re looking to do both day trips and hut trips, a bigger pack can work for both, so that you don’t need to compromise on safety when you need a bigger pack. Some packs have expansion zippers or modular cubes you can add on, so that you’re not stuck with a bigger pack on days when you don’t need it.

                2. Deployment mechanism: 

                  1. Canisters: Traditional airbags use compressed air (CO2 or Nitrogen) to deploy. The downsides of this option are that they only allow for one deployment per canister, and are heavier than battery powered options. You also cannot travel internationally with air canisters (in case you’re daydreaming about your next Japow trip). That said, there are tons of options for canister bags out there, making it easier to find one that works for you. 

                    1. CO2: CO2 airbags are the most common option out there. These are easy to maintain since most ski shops can refill your canister for a small fee. That said, CO2 canisters are heavier and larger than nitrogen. 

                    2. Nitrogen: Nitrogen canisters are becoming less and less common. They are also more difficult and expensive to replace: they need to be sent back to the manufacturer to be recycled rather than getting filled at a ski shop, so you’ll need to find a shop that offers canister swap-outs. These can cost ~$100. That said, they are lighter and smaller than CO2 canisters. 

                  2. Battery-powered: Battery-powered bags came onto the market in the last few years, and are a great option. They can be deployed multiple times on a single charge, can be charged easily at home, and are typically lighter and less bulky than traditional canister bags. You can also safely travel on a plane with them. These tend to be more expensive but the trade-off for the cost of canister refills may be worth it. 

                3. Ski strap mechanism: These give you the option of strapping your skis to your pack when bootpacking. Bags typically have an a-frame carry or a cross-bag carry. Both have pros and cons, though a-frames are a more popular preference.

                4. Fit: Be sure to try backpacks on before buying. In our experience, a lot of gender-neutral avy bags are sized for men and can be difficult for women. Bring your helmet with you to try them on, to make sure the height doesn’t interfere with it. 

              2. RECOMMENDATIONS: 

                1. Black Diamond Jetforce Tour 26: smaller battery powered pack. Super light, with almost no bulk taken up by the airbag and battery. Smaller fit than other Jetforces, so generally works better for women than other BD Jetforce options we’ve tried. That said, it’s on the smaller side and can sometimes feel too small even for day trips.

                2. Ortovox Tour 32+7: nitrogen canister bag with an expansion zipper. The 32L capacity is perfect for day trips, and the +7 provides enough extra space to work for hut trips. Dedicated avy gear pocket keeps your shovel and probe secure and handy, and leaves plenty of space for extra layers, water, and food.

                3. Scott Patrol E1 30: mid-capacity battery powered pack. Better fit for women than BD Jetforce in our experience, and the 30L size is great for day trips. 

                4. Osprey Women’s Sopris Pro 30L: This is new to the scene this year. It is the first women’s specific battery powered airbag we’ve seen! Although there is only one size and our hunch is it's just the S/M size of a unizex bag, while the men’s is the L/XL option. The Osprey Women’s Kresta backcountry bag (non-airbag) is a fan favorite over here so we were so excited when Osprey decided to release an airbag pack option.