Jun 26 2013

Picking a BC Partner


Sharing a view of Big Blue with a backcountry bro’

On the heels of a fresh dump all one really needs for a backcountry partner is an acquaintance familiar with basic backcountry protocol, some freeheel gear and the willingness to share trail-breaking duties. As simple and flexible as those requirements sound, there is much to be surmised about a partner just in evaluating these criteria. The reality is, I rarely suss those things out. Instead I put my trust in luck. It’s not necessarily the smartest choice, but I’ve been know to shortcut the partner evaluation and simply trust they’re as experienced as they pretend to be. So far, knock on wood, I’ve lucked out.

Pointers on Partners
All the same, here are some things to consider. Do they have the ten essentials in their pack plus a beacon, probe and shovel? Do they know how to use them? How will you know?

Met these guys in the West Side and agreed to ski with them to the East Side of the Sierra.

Ski Ability
How well do they ski? This can affect the line you take, both up and down. Can they keep up with you, and vice versa, and will each of you be looking out for the other? My backcountry mentor wasn’t much of a skier, but he was solid. He never put himself in a precarious situation or made himself a liability to others. Even if he couldn’t flash a slope in style, he knew how to get down safely or find another way.

Sussing Gear
While it may not be accurate, gear does tend to indicate a level of experience. If they’re young and come with the heaviest bindings available on their skis, I get suspicious. If they’re using Dynafiddles or Switchbacks I assume a few years experience, but it never hurts to ask about how long they’ve been earning turns. Depending on how they answer, it can indicate their level of hubris or humility. If they’re on Targas or Cobras, I pity them.

Armchair Advice
In the long term, the qualities I look for in a ski buddy have more to do with their general attitude and perspective on life. While some prefer to avoid discussing topics on the skin track with depth, my favorite partners are more than willing to talk about stuff that matters. While this often includes discussions of the weightier subjects of life, I mostly look for people who can exchange advice on how to deal with the wife, the kids and the bills. Being able and willing to share, discuss, or carry on a civil debate is essential to being classified as a true ski buddy in my book.

Be very careful who you agree to share the trail with, and more importantly, the hut. ;)

While I like to think I can get along with most anyone on the skin track, I prefer those who share my preference for a meanderthal track with a slow but steady pace. Those who prefer a competitive pace cease to be partners because separation is inevitable.

Skill Set
Another aspect of a good partner is to have a set of skills that overlap, but not completely. It is far better to be with someone you can learn something from, whether that is improving your ski technique, avalanche assessment or even just the recommendation for a good mechanic, plumber or boot-fitter.

Topic du Jour

From Telemark Skier
Vol. 11, #4

The best ski partners are more than ski partners. They become friends for life, but some fade away, either from injury or just following different paths. That’s why it’s always good to have an open mind, so you can hook up with somebody new at the trailhead and share a casual conversation to the top. I’ve enjoyed the company of several strangers this way. Few have stayed friends, but not because we didn’t enjoy the tour together. Rather we were simply two ships sharing the same path for a day and nothing more. Always be on the lookout and give a chance to a twist of fate. You never know who will clamber out of the car next to yours at the trailhead.

© 2013

This article first appears in Telemark Skier magazine #20 (Volume 11, #4) and is reprinted with permission. Get your subscription to Telemark Skier mag here.