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Experience Winter Adventure: Backcountry Skiing in Anaconda, MT

Updated: Feb 7

As winter approaches, thoughts turn to snow and opportunities to experience a delightful number of unique outdoor winter adventures. In the Anaconda, MT area, winter gifts us with downhill skiing at Discovery Ski Area, cross-country skiing on Echo Lake Trails, and ski-skating and snowshoeing on the Mt. Haggin Nordic Ski Trails. Those who live and visit here enjoy the plethora of opportunities to embrace and experience our winter wonderland.


Still, there is another alluring, challenging, and remote winter experience our area offers. It is one many have yet to discover, and others passionately pursue: backcountry skiing. Backcountry skiing in Anaconda, MT is an extraordinary way to experience winter adventure.


Backcountry skiing and untouched terrain are an extraordinary experience you can have near and aroundAnaconda, MT
Backcountry skiing opens a world of opportunities

What is backcountry skiing?


Backcountry skiing takes place in remote, undeveloped areas. There are no marked trails; there are no ski patrols. In the backcountry, skiers enjoy the solitude and serenity of the natural environment. They experience the beauty and preservation of vast, untouched landscapes and untracked powder.


Dave McKernan, a lifelong Anaconda resident with decades of local backcountry skiing experience, says “I love the solitude, as does my wife Robin—the beauty, the quiet, the light that winter provides. Physically, I find hiking on skis easier on my body than hiking on dry land. Then you arrive at your destination and a powder run awaits—nothing could be better! The exhilaration after ski touring is like nothing I have ever experienced.”


Untouched snow and untracked powder near Anaconda, MT
Backcountry skiing near Anaconda, MT features untouched snow and remote, variable terrain..

Still, the sport poses serious inherent risks, such as avalanches and unpredictable weather. With those risks, skiers must assume greater responsibility for themselves–relying on their own skills and competencies to travel through any variety of conditions, including deep powder, steep slopes, and variable terrain.


While challenging, many find the requirement to be self-sufficient appealing and gratifying. They must be able to navigate unmarked terrain, make important decisions, manage risks, and use an important inventory of tools and equipment, including avalanche safety gear—such as beacons, shovels, and probes.


Individuals interested in exploring the backcountry should have the proper training and be aware of the potential risks associated with skiing in uncontrolled environments and potential avalanche areas.


How do people ski in the backcountry?


Backcountry skiing can involve more than skis; backcountry skiers often use diverse modes of travel.


Skiers access the backcountry by hiking, skinning (using specialized climbing skins on the skis to walk uphill) or using other non-motorized and motorized means to reach a desired location.


Some ascend mountains to descend on traditional skis; others to descend on snowboards. Some seek a robust cross-country or snowshoe experience, and others seek remote winter opportunities for alpine and ice climbing. Sometimes, these modes are used in combination on a single trip, transitioning between them as the terrain and condition dictates.


Backcountry skiing, skinning, snowshoes, unmarked snow near Anaconda, Montana
Backcountry split borders on an uphill trek

The table below identifies some of the travel modes backcountry skiers use.

Skinning

Skins are specialized strips made of synthetic or natural materials that attach to the base of skis with a plush, or “sticky” side, facing the snow. The skin’s texture allows skiers to glide forward on the snow but prevents sliding backward, facilitating uphill travel.

Hiking/Walking

Backcountry skiers often need to hike or walk to access their desired skiing terrain, often called “boot-packing.” This can involve approaches from parking areas to the base of a mountain or walking up steeper sections where skinning is impractical. Hiking may be done with regular ski or telemark boots, snowboard boots, or specialized ski mountaineering boots.

Split Boarding

Split boards are snowboards that are separated into two skis for ascending slopes, and then joined back together for descending.

​Snowshoeing

​Snowshoes provide the ability to walk across deep snow, allowing access to areas where regular hiking might be challenging, especially in areas with flatter terrain or where skis may not be practical.

Climbing

In more technical and challenging terrain, climbers might use additional equipment, such as crampons and ice axes, to ascend steeper slopes. This is common in alpine or mountaineering-style backcountry skiing.

Ski Mountaineering

Ski mountaineering combines skiing with alpine climbing techniques. Skiers may use ropes, harnesses, and other climbing equipment to navigate steeper and more technical terrain. This mode is popular in alpine environments with significant vertical relief.

Cross-Country Skiing/Touring

​In some backcountry settings, especially those with gentler terrain, cross-country skiing may be the mode of choice. This involves using lighter skis and bindings, and sometimes specialized boots for both ascending and descending on rolling or flat terrain.


Split board and boarding near Anaconda, MT
Split Board - trek uphill and board down.

How do I develop these skills?


Becoming a backcountry skier requires skiing proficiency, outdoor skills, and knowledge of specific challenges associated with skiing in uncontrolled mountainous terrain. If this sport appeals to you, it will delight you. However, make sure you have the skills and competencies, developed through study and working with a professional backcountry education organization and professional, to ensure your safety.


Several professional organizations in Montana specialize in teaching these skills. If you are new to the sport, we encourage you to consult with them. Click on the logo to find their contact information and specialties.

For hands-on training in Avalanche Safety, Wildnerness First Aid and Certifications, and more, consider:

Backcountry Avalanche Training Anaconda MT

Backcountry Medicine First Aid Training Anaconda, MT



Avalanche Training Anaconda Missoula Montana







Montana State University and the University of Montana also offer important information and training in developing backcountry skills. They even have outdoor recreation programs that include backcountry experiences.

Backcountry experience information and class Montana State

Backcountry experience training class University Montana









Other useful informational resources include:



Montana backcountry information and resources
Forest Service information Anaconda area backcountry
Avalanche Awareness information








Preserving Montana's wildlands and backcountry

While some people keep specific backcountry zones a well guarded secret, some potential backcountry areas to explore near Anaconda include:


Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness Area: This wilderness area, located just southwest of Anaconda, provides a rugged and pristine backcountry skiing experience. Popular areas for skiing may include high mountain passes and open bowls.


Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest: The Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest is the largest National Forest in the State of Montana. The forest surrounds Anaconda, providing many opportunities for backcountry skiing.


Bitterroot Range: To the west of Anaconda lies the Bitterroot Range, offering a mix of backcountry skiing opportunities. The range has diverse terrain, and skiers may find open slopes, glades, and challenging descents.


Others: Other areas near Anaconda worthy of exploration by prospective backcountry skiers include the Flint Creek Range area and Lost Creek State Park.


As Dave McKernan points out, “the backcountry opportunities in Anaconda-Deer Lodge County are boundless.”


Skin tracks near Anaconda, MT backcountry area
Backcountry views and vistas are extraordinary.

If headed into the backcountry, keep in mind that conditions can vary. Always check local information and land use regulations, weather forecasts, and avalanche reports before venturing out. For example, the Garrity Mountain Wildlife Management Area and Mount Haggin Wildlife Management Area (west of the continental divide) are closed to all public entry from December 1st through May 15th.


Lots of resources and maps are available online for your use. For more information about cross-country skiing specifically, see our blog on Gliding Into Winter.


Pintler's Portal Hostel maintains a list of online map resources enthusiasts may find useful and convenient. In addition, the Hostel houses a map wall in its multipurpose room–called Spike Camp–providing a comprehensive look at physical maps to help inform a backcountry experience. Visit the Hostel for an opportunity to explore the possibilities.


Adventure starts here!


Affordable lodging base camp in Anaconda Montana - Hostel, Hotel, Motel









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