Backcountry Access Gates
Understanding what’s beyond the boundaries
Backcountry access gates are like warp zones. Step through that portal and you’re instantly transported to a wild and wonderfully serene world with untracked powder in every direction and only a few other shreds seeking to destroy. Since these gates can be accessed from resorts, they offer snowboarders who are new to the backcountry a convenient means to an ultimately radical end. But just because these gates are easy to get to, doesn’t mean the terrain on the other side isn’t deserving of your respect.
Backcountry is backcountry, and inherently dangerous-it’s as simple as that. So safety should be of up most concern. Always carry a transceiver, probe, and shovel; and don’t even think about setting foot through one of these gates without a buddy-or better yet, buddies-who can save you should things go bad.
Take it from Baker backcountry veteran Patrick McCarthy, “Having a partner is crucial. You never want to head out into dangerous zones solo, if you do, you’re just asking for it.”-L.G.
Most of the 130 U.S. resorts that operate on Forest Service land offer backcountry access gates. Some are always open and other can be closed at times. Always check with the ski patrol if you’re uncertain about the gates at the resort you’re riding.
Make sure you know how to get out of the backcountry you’re entering, because there won’t be any signs back there. Also, always consider how much daylight you have left before you begin your adventure, so you don’t end up spending a night in the woods.
A lot of resorts offer educational courses to teach fledgling backcountry enthusiasts about all the dangers that exist beyond the boundaries. Mt. Baker’s Mountain Education Center educates more than 300 people every year with one- to three-day courses. Check to see if your local resort offers a class and if so enroll-it could save your life or the lives of your friends.
Just because the gate is open doesn’t mean the snow is stable. Check your local avalanche center for current conditions and any avalanche advisories, evaluate the snow yourself once you’re on-hill and when in doubt, don’t go out.
“Backcountry gates are a great way for people to get to know the backcountry, plus they make you stop and think for a second and ask yourself, “How prepared am I?” -Patrick McCarthy