So you’re looking to get started with backcountry skiing…you’re not alone! The allure of escaping crowded resorts to explore isolated, rugged terrain with deep powder has drawn hoards of new adventure seekers to the sport in the past couple years. This trend comes as no surprise as many of the previous barriers have been knocked down. Advances in route planning tools, guide books, topographic maps, safety training and avalanche forecasts have combined to make backcountry skiing more approachable than ever before. Be that as it may, one of the most prohibitive barriers still remains – Cost. Although the costs of lift tickets no longer apply, the costs of the requisite, specialized equipment really add up in a hurry. But fear not! In this article, I’ll outline some strategies you can use to keep the entry costs under control and get started with backcountry skiing, without breaking the bank.
This article is tailored towards traditional resort skiers who are looking to break into ski touring to supplement their resort skiing. In other words, people who plan to still ski most of their days in the resort, with a handful of ski touring days mixed in. That said, a lot of my suggestions will still apply to those who are looking to exclusively ski tour.
Disclaimer: Just because you have the right gear doesn’t mean you can immediately venture out into the backcountry. Always take an avalanche awareness course from your local avalanche authority, or hire a professional guide who knows the area. Check out our Know Before You Go post for more information.
How much does backcountry ski gear cost?
Although there are plenty of ways that people explore the backcountry on skis – heli-assisted, snowmobile-assisted, snowshoes with skis strapped to a backpack – the most common method is using touring skis with climbing skins. The detachable heel bindings and sticky underside of climbing skins allow you to ascend mountains and truly earn your turns.
So how much does it cost to get all the gear required to explore the backcountry in this way? Let’s take a look at the essential gear you need and its associated costs.
As you can see, it can be quite the upfront investment! Thankfully, there are several ways to bring these costs down and keep the budget under control.
Strategies to keep in mind to save wisely
Here are four overarching strategies to keep top-of-mind when shopping for your touring setup.
1. Reliability should always be top of mind.
The backcountry is an isolated environment. Broken buckles or busted bindings are not only day-ruiners, but they could strand you in a sticky spot if you’re a long way from the car. For that reason, keep reliability at the forefront of your buying decisions.
2. Crossover gear helps your dollars go further.
In recent years, gear designers have been developing some great “crossover” products that can be used for both resort and backcountry skiing. A “one boot quiver” or “one ski quiver” saves you money since it’s effectively a 2-for-1 deal – one piece of equipment that works well for both types of skiing.
3. Not everything is worth saving on.
This specifically applies to your avalanche safety gear. Do not skimp on the gear that you – and your ski partners – would rely on in the event of an avalanche.
4. If you buy cheap, you buy twice.
There’s a key difference between shopping for a deal and shopping for actual value. Buying tired secondhand gear or lower-end new gear might save you some money at first, but after a mere season or two it’ll be in need of an upgrade. Buying high-quality, long-lasting gear will save you in the long run, giving you a decade or more of use.
With these considerations in mind, let’s take a look at how to approach shopping for each piece of ski touring equipment.
Three Ways to Save on Backcountry Touring Skis & Bindings
When it comes to shopping for touring skis and touring bindings on a budget, there are three different ways to do this.
1. Buy dedicated touring skis, new, but buy last year’s model.
Skis are probably the most heavily discounted pieces of gear when it comes to Black Friday and End of Season Sales. You can often find plenty of last season’s models for 30-50% less than the price of the current model. Seeing as most of the time it’s just a graphics change from year to year, buying last year’s model is the way to go. Combine them with some lightweight touring bindings, and you’ve got a great dedicated touring setup.
2. Buy dedicated touring skis, used.
Through buying a used touring setup you can get a turnkey setup that includes skis, mounted bindings, and probably skins as well, all for a heavy discount. For this reason, buying used can be a very appealing option for the casual backcountry skier. However, there are a couple of things to consider here. First, tying back to our theme of reliability, you want to make sure that the skis and bindings are in good-working condition, with plenty of days left in them. Second, you’re at the mercy of the market in terms of what ski and binding models are available in your size, so you may not get exactly what you want. But if you can find a diamond in the rough on a site like Geartrade, go for it!
3. Buy a “one ski quiver.”
A one ski quiver is essentially one ski & binding setup that you use for both resort skiing and ski touring. You start with a ski that’s heavier than a touring ski but lighter than an all mountain ski. Something like the Line Sick Day 104’s. Then you mount a crossover binding, such as the Salomon Shift or Marker Duke, which is burlier than a touring binding, but still offers touring functionality. The combination of these two gives you ski that is heavier than an ideal touring setup, and lighter than an ideal all mountain setup, but can certainly do it all! This is a great way to save since you are essentially eliminating the need for an entire pair of skis and bindings. On top of this, I always suggest buying your skis on sale by shopping last year’s models, which will save you an additional 30-50%.
Budget-Savvy Backcountry Skier Suggestion for Skis & Bindings:
If you’re not in a rush, keep an eye on the secondhand market to see if a gem comes up. Otherwise, I recommend going with option #1. If you’re a very casual skier who skis maybe half a dozen days a year split between the resort and backcountry, then I would go with option #3.
The Price of Climbing Skins is Pretty Sticky
It really is difficult to save when it comes to buying climbing skins, as you really need ones that are compatible with your specific skis. Once skins have been cut to a ski, rarely can they be cut again to a different ski, unless it’s narrower everywhere. Even then skins do wear out over time, and they’re not a super expensive piece of equipment to begin with, so it’s best to buy them new. But no harm in checking if you can find someone selling uncut ones on Geartrade. Since climbing skin technology doesn’t change much, they don’t often go on sale for more than 10-15% off, even during the biggest of sales.
Budget-Savvy Backcountry Skier Suggestion for Climbing Skins:
Do a quick search for people selling uncut climbing skins on Geartrade or other classifieds. If no luck, buy new.
A Big Savings Hack for Touring Boots
If there is one piece of equipment that most often determines whether you’re going to have a good time or a bad time while ski touring – it is boots. Why? Because blisters suck. Period. Remember that time you went hiking and your ankles blistered? Yeah, not fun. Well, when climbing, your ski boots are essentially like hiking boots. You need them to be compatible with your feet. That said, there is a big opportunity for budget-savvy backcountry skiers when it comes to buying your touring boots. Let me explain.
In recent years, boot manufacturers have developed highly versatile “hybrid boots.” These are essentially 2-in-1 boots that perform at a high level for both resort skiing, as well as ski touring. They feature all the characteristics of a ski touring boot: flexible walk-mode, lighter weight, maximum comfort, touring pin binding hardwear. While at the same time they are still burly and rigid enough to not hold you back while ripping groomers at the local resort.
For me, when I went to replace my old (regular) ski boots a couple years ago, I replaced them with a hybrid boot, the Tecnica Cochise. This has been my “one boot quiver” i.e. the only ski boot I use, no matter where I’m skiing. They’re compatible with both my touring and inbounds skis, and perform admirably in both environments. I’ve been thrilled with them!
By getting a pair of hybrid boots, you’re essentially buying one pair of boots instead of two! On top of that, you can save even more when shopping for touring boots, by shopping at a Black Friday or End of Season sale. Similar to skis, a lot of boot models don’t change year to year other than the graphics.
What about secondhand boots? If you’re looking to shop the secondhand boot market, do so with a boatload of caution. First, let’s go back to the whole “blisters suck” thing. Modern ski boots should be fitted to your feet by an experienced boot fitter. They use heat, insole changes, punching tools, and who knows what else to formfit the boot to your unique foot. For this reason, it can be very difficult to find used boots that fit your feet perfectly.
Second, people do some weirrdddd stuff to their boots. Relocating buckles, removing materials, shaving or cutting off certain parts, mistreatment of the liners…You don’t know what’s been done to them and how reliable they’re going to be for you. In my opinion, buying your boots new and having them professionally fitted is the way to go.
Budget-Savvy Backcountry Skier Suggestion for Touring Boots:
Buy a new hybrid boot that you can use as your everyday boot, both inbounds and out of bounds. Buy last year’s model on sale and save 30%+.
Hybrid Boot Models We Love
The way to save money with touring poles is similar to touring boots: buy a pair of telescoping touring poles and use them as both your inbounds and out of bounds ski poles. Poles rarely go on sale for more than 10-15% – since pole tech never really changes – so your best way to save here is to buy touring poles that will become your “one pole quiver.” You can even remove the baskets and use them as hiking poles in the summer! Shopping for secondhand poles is also a fine idea, but since the technology rarely changes, the secondhand pole market is pretty scarce.
Budget-Savvy Backcountry Skier Suggestion for Touring Poles:
Check secondhand markets first. Buy touring poles that you can use for both resort and backcountry skiing – and even hiking!
Avalanche Safety Gear
The three avalanche safety essentials – beacon, shovel, and probe – are pieces of gear that hopefully you will never have to use. However, just because you’ll rarely, or hopefully, never, have to use them, doesn’t mean you should just buy the cheapest. If you ever do need to use this stuff, you and/or your partner’s life could depend on it working.
For that reason, I would always, always, always buy your avalanche beacon new, from a reputable brand. The components of beacons wear out over time (check out this recent issue discovered with the Pieps DSP Pro) and the electronics can be damaged. You owe it to your mom to buy your beacon new. Beacons don’t go on sale often, but every once in a while you might be able to get one for 15-20% off at a Black Friday or End of Season sale.
If you are looking to save some money here, the way to do it is by buying your avalanche shovel and avalanche probe secondhand. These are much simpler tools, with no electronics, that are barely ever used. These are also two pieces of equipment where there isn’t a huge variance between different products, so you don’t need to get exactly what you want. Therefore, if you can verify that they are in good working order, this is somewhere I would recommend trying to save.
Budget-Savvy Backcountry Skier Suggestion for Avalanche Safety Gear:
ALWAYS buy your beacon new, from a reputable company
Save by buying your shovel and probe secondhand. They rarely get much use and are fairly simple, robust pieces of equipment.
How much can you actually save? Quite a bit!
You could save potentially another $200 if you bought a used Ski + Binding setup. But you would really want to verify the condition of both the skis and the bindings first. From a reliability, size fit, and getting exactly what you want perspective, paying a bit extra for last year’s model is 100% worth it.
Ready to Give Backcountry Skiing a Try?
Getting into backcountry skiing can be overwhelming at first. From figuring out what gear you need, to finding routes in your area, to understanding safe travel in avalanche terrain, to learning ski touring techniques…there’s a lot to learn! But once you understand what you need to learn, you can slowly start chipping away through online and local resources. Then, soon enough, you’ll have the tools and education you need to get out and safely enjoy the pristine snow and rugged beauty of the backcountry.
Hopefully this article has given you a better understanding of the gear needed to get started with backcountry skiing and how you can shop wisely to stay within your budget. Excited to hear your thoughts, or any other tips you have to share. Hit me up in the comments!