Taking the lead in avalanche education for their lift-accessible backcountry terrain, Alpental Ski Area in Washington State has dedicated a section of their site to educate skiers. Alpental is my home resort. It’s where I learned to ski and it’s where I ski when I head back to the Northwest to visit family.
The inbounds and backcountry terrain at Alpental is mind-blowing for such a small resort. When I say small, I mean it: 302 acres inbounds and 523 acres backcountry with 4 lifts. Here’s the kicker though… it offers 2,280 ft. vertical from top to bottom! I’m guessing that’s more vertical per acre than any resort in the world. It’s no wonder Alpental has such a huge following.
Having skied at several other ski resorts that offer lift-accessed backcountry terrain, Alpental is definitely one of the most organized and thorough in their backcountry policies and education. Yes, they are taking a risk by being the gatekeepers in the backcountry, but that’s better than letting every yahoo run free in the backcountry. I think other ski resorts with lift-accessed backcountry gates may soon be forced to have such programs in place.
Alpental Backcountry Program
The crux of their backcountry program is getting Ski Patrol authorization to enter the backcountry. They know who is in there and approve only those with the proper equipment with an issued backcountry card. Once issued, the cardholder notifies Ski Patrol and can access the heralded Alpental Backcountry terrain. They understand the risks and are prepared to take care of themselves in an emergency situation.
I have seen first-hand the mayhem that surrounds other lift-accessed backcountry areas (like The Canyons Resort), Alpental is definitely leading the pack on education and safety procedures. Other resorts should take note and make changes in an effort to educate and prevent unprepared skiers and boarders from getting into trouble in the backcountry.
I’m not advocating preventing people from accessing the backcountry, but I do believe that Alpental is putting the right steps in place to properly educate skiers and boarders before entering backcountry terrain. And, education is a good thing.