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Backcountry Preparations 

By Darren Davidson

Getting Around -- There's no more obvious sign of backcountry inexperience than mode of transportation. If you encounter a posse of post-holers, struggling in their boots through crotch-deep snow, don't depend on them for help.

There are a number of ways to ascend winter slopes, depending on which way you plan on coming back down.

Skiers rely on climbing skins and touring bindings like Alpine Trekkers or the newer downhill/touring models like the Freschi Freeride. Trekkers affix to the bottom of a ski boot, then snap into standard downhill bindings. Models like the Freeride, which look like regular downhill bindings, disconnect below the heel of the boot, enabling the skier to walk up the hill, then reattach for descent.

Boarders tend to use snowshoes, or the more advanced split-board, which as the name suggests, splits in two, enabling the rider to walk up hill with skins affixed to the bottom of each board.

Backcountry Gear -- There are two things you need before you bust a move for the backcountry -- education and gear. That means you need to take an avalanche course -- most

ski shops can help you on that. Before you go, call your local forecasting center (the numbers and Web sites are listed above). And once out on the trails, obey all posted warning signs. But if it's gear you need -- here's the goods. Don't leave home without 'em.

Avalanche Transceiver -- A beacon that both sends and receives a radio signal. Each member of a touring group needs one. If you're buried in a slide or tree well, searchers can use their own transceivers to locate you, relying on the signal your transceiver is sending. The best transceivers are the new digital models.

Probe -- Made of thin but strong metal or Fiberglas sections strung together on a quick draw cord, probes are used to search in avalanche debris for victims.

Shovel -- A no-brainer. If a companion is in a slide, you'll need a shovel to dig him or her out. Your hands won't work, as avalanche debris sets up as hard as concrete. Touring shovels are lightweight, strong and break down into two parts for easy travelling. They're also necessary for digging avalanche pits and spur-of-the-moment shelters.

First Aid Kit -- When you're stuck far from help, the stabilization of broken bones and bleeding wounds can be the difference between life and death.

Water -- Winter-proof water packs, or camelbacks, are all but essential. Hydration -- both during activity and rest -- is vital.

Publication date: 1/15/04

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