First off, I long to explore the world-class terrain surrounding just about every big ski resort in Western Canada. I did this a lot in my youth, especially at Sunshine Village in Banff, and more recently near Whistler, B.C. The resorts themselves may not overtly encourage it, but trust me: If you're an avid skier, this is bucket-list material.
I was reminded of this today on my first visit to Kicking Horse, near Golden, B.C. Resort staffer (and die-hard Leafs fan) Andy Brown took me on an all-day tour of terrain that included boot-packing to the summit of towering Terminator 2 (pictured at left and below). This is as close as you'll ever get to the backcountry experience without leaving resort boundaries -- the 7,814-foot peak is patrolled and avalanche controlled -- and it reminded me of how much I want to schuss off into the region's untracked serenity and beauty.
That said, a day earlier, I learned the first and most important lesson of backcountry education: I don't know nearly enough about the backcountry. This was reinforced over the course of a morning at Sun Peaks with Bodie Shandro (pictured below in a tree well), who runs the Kamloops-area resort's new All Mountain Skills camp. I won't list all the life-saving tips Bodie provided -- you'll have to take the camp for that -- but he was kind enough to send me his top five pointers for anyone thinking of venturing off-piste:
1. Get educated before you go. Develop an awareness of mountain hazards, know how to avoid them and what do in the event of an incident.
2. Carry essential equipment.
3. Practice using your equipment before you go.
4. Start in safe easy terrain with a guide or someone with experience.
5. Avoidance is the best way to ski safe. If you have a bad feeling, trust it and find another route.
I imagine tomorrow's course will fill in these crucial broad strokes. Because the desire to head off-piste, and having the skills to do so, are two very different things.