Ways to elevate your ski day: backcountry ski excursions, clinics and more

If you generally ski lift-served terrain (hopefully with your family!) but find yourself routinely wanting to elevate your ski day with a little more adventure, there are some very obtainable and accessible ways to do so! Whether you’ve already skied everything you can in the front-country (on-piste terrain) at your favorite ski resort or simply want to learn more about ways to maximize your ski experience,  backcountry ski excursions, clinics and resort programs can get you into the side-country for new challenges.

Sidecountry and Backcountry ski excursions:

If you find yourself looking with longing at Warren Miller (RIP) films or drooling over brochures featuring fresh tracks cutting through powery landscapes, look into backcountry ski excursions. It’s important to start with guided programs, so you can learn what you need to know about avalanche and snow safety (if you get hooked, you’ll need to invest in your own gear and take an avalanche safety course at home).

Start with sidecountry trips, which simply means skiing the off-piste but still ski-patrolled areas of a resort. A few great ways to do this: try a Homewood Snowcat Adventure with the folks at this Tahoe ski resort with a hometown feel, or pay a few bucks to access Keystone Mountain’s cat-accessed terrain.

If you’re visiting a new-to-you resort, see if they have a Hidden Tracks program, like Solitude Mountain Resort’s: this private, guided program grants you access to the best side country and gated terrain the resort has to offer, and you get a lesson in skiing off-piste while you’re at it. Read more about my Hidden Tracks experience.

If you feel ready for an all-day backcountry adventure, check out Ski Utah’s Interconnect. The backcountry ski excursions the Interconnect offers are quite truly amazing. While you need to be an advanced skier to participate, you don’t have to be experienced in the backcountry. The trained guides will carry all the avi gear you need and will provide the expertise.

Depending on the excursion you choose, you ski up to six Utah ski resorts in one day, connecting them via backcountry. Along the way, you’ll ski side and backcountry, boot pack a few times, and side slip (side step on your skis) at a few key points, too. While challenging physically, the Interconnect offers some of the back fresh powder in the Wasatach, takes you to points you might have only seen on postcards, and will get you hooked on skiing off the beaten path. A day with the Interconnect folks includes lunch and access to all the resorts you’ll be passing through.

Know before you book: As noted, you’ll need to be an advanced skier. Because several of the resorts on the tour do not permit snowboards, it’s a skier-only excursion. While it’s important to be able to ski a variety of terrain, it’s equally important to be fit enough to hike through snow (carrying your skis) and side slip. It also helps to not fear moderate heights. You’ll need to bring a small backpack (a hydration pack size is perfect) to stow extra gloves, a face mask, some snacks, and water.

In California, try at backcountry experience with Alpenglow Expeditions. Alpenglow operates out of Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows and tours in the backcountry past Granite Chief lift to access out-of-boundary terrain via boot packing and skinning. Alpenglow will outfit you in AT (Alpine Touring) skis, boots, skins and backpack with avi gear if you need it. Tours are all day, and can include up to 2-3 laps of National Geographic Bowl.

Read more about my experiences with both Ski Utah Interconnect and Alpenglow Expeditions here.

Ongoing ski clinics ski camps:

If you’re lucky enough to live near a ski resort, consider signing yourself up for an ongoing adult ski clinic. You probably already have the kids in ski lessons, too! Ski clinics are often gender-specific (nice for women who want to learn without pressure from their husbands and vice versa) and the regular nature of them means you can improve over the season. Look for a clinic that utilizes the same instructor for the entire session for consistency of instruction, and it helps to have a later start time (like 9:30 or 10 am) so you have time to drop off kids at their own lessons (or at school) beforehand. Look for clinic options under ‘specialty lessons’ on most resort websites. Solitude’s Women on Wednesdays are an excellent example.

Ski camps are a great way to feel like a kid again while enjoying some adult time and improving your ski ability by leaps and bounds. Alta Lodge’s women’s camps are a great example: bunk with a ski buddy, enjoy meals at the lodge and nice long ski days filled with instruction, then relax each evening in the hot tub and at the bar with new friends. Yes, please!

If you can’t quite carve out a whole week, Northstar California plays host to Her Mountain retreats, a two-day event held several times per ski season (then again several times per summer for mountain bike enthusiasts). During Her Mountain, women receive two days of specialized lessons by a female instructor, guided yoga, apres-ski events, and even the Platinum tōst experience on the mountain. This experience is an elevated version of the 2 pm tōst (where every Northstar guest can enjoy complimentary champagne or sparkling cider). Platinum Tōst is at 1 pm and includes a dedicated seating area with fire pit, a s’mores kit, a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, and a picnic of charcuterie that is hearty enough to be a full lunch. Her Mountain doesn’t include lodging, so you can pick your level of luxury to economic accommodations.

First Tracks programs:

Ditch the family sleeping soundly at the ski condo and head out for first tracks! These programs are offered at many resorts and allow you to hop on the first chair at 8:15 am instead of 9 am. Often, First Tracks is free to guests staying at certain resort properties or come with a low cost. The key is to sign up early, because there are only a few spots each day offered. You’ll get to track up that perfect corduroy first, and enjoy a nice breakfast afterward.

How do you like to elevate your ski day experience?