Best Aussie backcountry tours for first timers this ski season

Feathertop, Australia, Hotham, Skiing, Snowboarding, Snow
Feathertop, Australia. Photo credit: Shutterstock

While Australia waits for more news about the ski season ahead, including opening dates and how resorts will operate in a COVID winter, thoughts turn to untracked socially isolated powder in the backcountry. 

However, if you are considering some backcountry turns in 2020 then, for the inexperienced, this is the season to always go with a guide, up skill your avalanche safety knowledge and ensure your backcountry pack is filled with the correct equipment (and you know how to use it). 

The last thing search and rescue and local hospitals need this winter is a bunch of novice backcountry skiers getting themselves in trouble, so, please know before you go.

There are a number of companies in New South Wales and Victoria that can help you learn the ropes from using ski touring equipment to route planning, understanding avalanche terrain and safety survival skills. You’ll gain some responsible skills and be supporting local businesses that would otherwise be doing it tough.

While most resorts have recently started offering backcountry intro tours within their ski school offerings, at this stage we are unaware what ski school offerings will be operating in 2020. We do know, however, that New South Wales backcountry guides have been given the go ahead by Parks to operate with appropriate Covid guidelines. 

We all want skiers and snowboarders looking to experience the beauty and thrill that the great outdoors can bring us all, to do so in a safe manner. So we’ve listed some reputable backcountry tour companies operating this season that can introduce you to a life long passion for people powered powder turns.

First timer backcountry tours

These tours are an intro to backcountry for first timers looking to experience what it’s all about. All of these operators also offer intermediate to advanced ski touring and, of course, there are others that just offer tours for those already experienced.

Snow Safety Australia is a certified avalanche training company that also run an introduction to the backcountry skills for those wanting to become more knowledgable about backcountry skiing. The one day course is run in the New South Wales Main Range and will help you gain experience and confidence. It’s also a great precursor to their Level 1 Avalanche Course. You will experience trip planning, route finding, travel protocols and ski touring techniques. $400 for 1-2 people with $100 per person for additional. 

Snowy Mountains Backcountry has a backcountry introduction day tour that focuses on developing skills and safe techniques including how to travel efficiently on the mountain. The course is on low angle terrain in New South Wales Guthega region. You’ll need to have a good level of fitness and be a strong intermediate skier. Groups are capped at 5 people per guide. $650 for one person, $325 per person for two and $250 per person for 3-5 people. 

Alpine Access offer backcountry intro tours in both New South Wales and Victoria. You’ll travel in low angle terrain not far from the trailhead. The day is about providing backcountry touring foundations. $150 per person, you’ll join a group of fellow skiers and boarders who have also booked on this public course. 

Avalanche courses

You could become AST 1 certified this winter in Australia with a number of avalanche courses on offer. AST 1 is the entry level avalanche training certification and is advised for anyone embarking upon backcountry skiing and boarding. 

Snow Safety runs a weekend certified Avalanche Canada Avalanche Skills Training Level 1 (AST1) course from June to September in Jindabyne and Mt Hotham. Participants will learn the basics of avalanche formation and release, terrain, travel, decision making using the ATES scale, how to read avalanche danger ratings, how to perform companion rescue and more. Cost is $300 for the two day course (one classroom day, one field mountain day). Snow Safety are also the only providers of AST2 certification in Australia. 

Women in the Backcountry AST1 is a female only AST1 course being held in both NSW and Victoria, also by the team at Snow Safety. This year Australia’s Freeride World Tour snowboarder and World #2, Michaela Davis Meehan, will be hosting the August course in New South Wales. Prices are per AST1 course through Snow Safety – $300 for two days, one classroom day, one field day.

Alpine Access also offers Avalanche Canada accredited AST1 courses in both NSW and Victoria. You’ll acquire new skills and knowledge to help keep you safe in the backcountry at home and abroad. Courses are run at Jindabyne, Hotham, Falls Creek and Mt Stirling from July through to September. Cost is $320 for two days, one classroom day, one field day.

Avalanche Training Australia run a 2 day “Avalanche Awareness” course at Thredbo and Falls Creek. The programme provides introductory information for backcountry users to help decision making when in avalanche terrain. Participants will finish with general awareness of safe travel technique and companion rescue. Cost is $300 per person.

Whomever you choose to “go out the back” with, check the credentials and qualifications of the guides on the day that are taking you.

Also join the Australian Backcountry Facebook Group and ask the members questions, they’re all regular backcountry skiers and snowboarders who can point you in the right direction.

The Victoria Backcountry Festival is also on this September if you want to learn more from the professionals.

Stay safe, be aware and have fun.

Want more? Check out our backcountry section on SnowsBest.

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Rachael Oakes-Ash is the name behind @misssnowitall and the founder of SnowsBest.com. A long time travel and lifestyle journalist and ski writer, she's been published in ESPN, TIME, Wallpaper*, Action Asia, Inside Sport, Australian Financial Review, Emirates Open Skies, Conde Nast Traveler and more. She was the Fairfax snow blogger from 2007 to 2017 and the Southern Hemisphere editor for OnTheSnow. Rachael is also a documentary producer, author, radio announcer and humorist.