There aren’t many universities in the world that offer a course with these class assignments: “skin” up (on touring skis) into the Wasatch mountain wilderness, set up camp, equipped with a deluxe snow kitchen, and summit peaks to learn some “self-arrest” techniques, followed by a run or two through untouched powder in Utah’s famed backcountry terrain.
No, your average school does not offer such a class. At the University of Utah, it’s called Backcountry Ski Mountaineering, and it’s taught by the Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Department as part of the Natural Resources Learning program. The class focuses on safe route finding in winter conditions, ridge climbing and ski travel skills. But it’s not all technical.
“We certainly want students to take away a respect for the natural environment and a respect for what it takes to safely travel back here,” course instructor Scott Schumann says. “[But one] of the goals for the course, aside from safety [learning], is to help develop this idea of conservation. We can take students out and teach them some skills to enjoy the area and as a result of that they’ll go home with an understanding of the places that are important to save and conserve for future generations.”
It’s not your typical class. But it’s one that you’ll never forget. For more on the action-packed course work of Backcountry Ski Mountaineering, see the video below. And for photos from the class, visit this Ski the University of Utah Facebook album.