Knowing is half the Battle
The group can be the hardest thing to deal with in the backcountry. Having a mixed-gender team can add some trickiness. For a while it was thought that having a woman in the group helped make things safer—her presence would facilitate more calculated decision making. That’s true to a degree, depending on the group’s breakdown. If it’s one man and one woman, then yes, but if it’s two dudes and a lady, studies show that the guys will subconsciously battle to impress her, which can result in more dangerous behavior.
Start out at a comfortable, sustainable pace. Guys—even outof-shape guys who smoke and drink like Don Draper—tend to skin and hike faster (once again, to impress women), and it’s tempting to try to keep pace right off the bat. Fight that feeling. Work at a speed where you can have a conversation, and try to keep it there.
“Gear-wise, I hate to say it, a lot of times men can muscle through situations,” says patroller and avalanche instructor Alexandra Taran. “We do things differently, so it’s important to have gear that functions, so we’re not carrying extra weight and expending extra energy.” Shaving ounces off your gear can make a big difference over a long day, especially if you’re a smaller person.
A 2009 study in the medical journal The Lancet found that women have, on average, slightly higher core temperatures and lower extremity temperatures. We sweat sooner, but our hands and toes (and boobs) get colder faster, especially while exerting ourselves in cold weather. Dial in a flexible layering system and use it. “As soon as I stop I’m putting on layers,” Taran says. There’s no shame in hand warmers.
When Nature Calls
Do not take your skis off. Skis provide both flotation (you don’t want to be post-holing down to your business when you’re doing your business) and leverage. Sit back on the rear cuff of your boots; feel the wind. Relax. A big snowball makes excellent toilet paper.
Cranky? Cold? Sick of walking uphill? Eat something, wait five minutes, and see how you feel. A University of Pennsylvania study found that women snack more frequently than men. So when you’re skinning in the cold and torching calories, don’t neglect snacks. Keep ’em close to the top of your pack and dip in often.
You know those gut feelings you get when things don’t seem quite right? Peter Schory, a 40-year ski patroller at Snowbird, calls them “cosmic vibrations,” and he says they’re powerful. Being in the backcountry can create an expert halo. You start to trust the judgment of the person with the most experience, even if you’re not sure he or she is right. If something feels wrong, trust your gut, speak up, and troubleshoot what could be causing that feeling. Everyone, regardless of experience, is part of the decision-making team out there.
Clockwise from right » Molly Baker keeps an eye on Leah
Evans in British Columbia; Rachael Burks, Trinda Rieck, Helen Sneath, and Meggan Klassen in Montana’s Swan Range; Burks grubs down.