A backcountry ski and snowboard expedition with the Colorado Outward Bound School is a great opportunity to take your skiing or snowboarding – and maybe even your self – to the next level. And just what is that next level? Well, in my four years as a COBS winter course instructor and course director, this is what I’ve seen. On the next level you progress your sport – your art – beyond ski area boundaries. On the next level you explore how backcountry riding is a team endeavor, as you test your limits in Colorado’s harshest environment. You learn how to ride bluebird powder high above treeline, and how to laugh even in the height of a Rocky Mountain blizzard. You’ll hone your avalanche awareness, your winter living and camping skills, and your ability to lead others by making smart choices in the backcountry.
Plus, you may well learn a thing or two about what makes you tick.
Outward Bound’s eight- and ten-day backcountry ski and snowboard courses start at our base camp in Leadville, Colorado. On day one you and your expedition team will move into your cabin-style dorms and get outfitted with all the gear: Voile Splitboards, Alpine Touring skis, avalanche rescue tools, extra warm clothing and more!
On day two we typically head south to Monarch Ski Area to ride inbounds for a day. There we work on group riding techniques, riding powder, and navigating Colorado’s variable snow conditions. You’ll also practice our avalanche rescue skills in the Backcountry Access beacon park. The resort day gives us a chance to have fun, get to know each other, and adjust to the altitude.
While the focus of day two is downhill riding, on day three we focus on uphill touring. In the backcountry, we have to earn our turns, so we head out to practice using climbing skins and hauling our expedition sleds. We also take some time for classroom and field sessions on our Level 1 Avalanche curriculum, including Avalanche Rescue.
On day four we head out of bounds and into the backcountry, where we spend four days camping in the snow, cooking delicious hot meals, exploring the Colorado snowpack, expanding our avalanche safety techniques, and, of course, getting plenty of turns on untracked terrain. This day is hard. We pull sleds behind us, and they’re heavy with a four day food ration, four-season tents, cooking stoves, lofty sleeping bags, and all the other supplies a winter expedition needs. Then we set a basecamp that we’ll use for the remainder of the adventure.
After our base camp is set up, it’s time to play. We’ll hike for turns as a small or large group, ride what nature gives us (pray for powder!), and, depending on the weather, snow conditions and our terrain options, you may even stand atop a 13,000-foot peak before snowboarding off the summit.
In between runs, we’ll explore more of our Level 1 Avalanche curriculum. You’ll dig pits and look at layers in the snow, read topographic maps, analyze safe versus unsafe terrain, tune in to the weather, and ultimately apply all of your observations towards making safe decisions for your backcountry crew.
Night comes early in the winter, so we spend a lot of time cooking by headlamp and telling stories around the lantern. You’ll also form some unusually close bonds with your tent mates. For example, when our feet get too cold, instead of going inside a ski lodge, we stick them on a buddy’s tummy!
Anyone who wants to truly challenge themselves and reap the rewards of such an experience ought to consider a winter Outward Bound journey.
All snow riders know the miracle of the snow flake. At some point, whether riding up the lift at your local ski hill, or laying on your back in a silent snowy forest, you’ve seen the way gazillions snow flakes come together, reach out and create mountains of snow. The tiniest, most fragile, most unlikely building blocks create one of nature’s most powerful – and potentially dangerous – layers. They also create one heck of a playground.
On Colorado Outward Bound’s backcountry ski and snowboard courses you’ll get the chance to explore this world, and you’ll get a chance to explore yourself. What are your strengths and fragilities? What are your most important bonds, and what makes you melt? How far can you push beyond your perceived limits? Come find out.
At Colorado Outward Bound we know that life is hard. That’s why we train harder.