Back vs. Slack. Or is it all just whacked?

No one forgets their first time. You’re skiing or riding along your favorites run – maybe it’s big and wide and blue with epic views, or maybe it’s steep and bumped out so your knees rattle a bit – and suddenly you look off to the side. What’s that? Some untouched white gold that looks as fluffy as cloud essence?

And then you see it: the endless amount of virgin pow just waiting to be ridden. You cast a backward glance only once at the beautiful run you’re leaving, and then you duck into the darkness of the trees.

At the bottom you’re breathless with exhilaration. You’ve just gone where no one else has gone before, and it was the best ride of your life.

You’ve just tasted the world of off piste. It’s beautiful and glorious and full of risk because in the blink of an eye you could sail off a cliff, fall into Whistler Creek, or end up at Cheakamus and hitching back to the Village.

Off piste is where the groomers don’t go and the maps get vague. It’s where pow exists when there’s nothing great on the runs, and it’s where you get to know every tree, every fallen log, and all the turns of the creek in a way you’ve never thought possible.

It’s everyone’s first taste of a face shot.

@therichardtopp plunging into the deep end . #keepittubes

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So you ski off piste for a while until one day you notice some hard core looking guys and gals hopping on the chair with large packs, and bindings that look much smaller than yours. You follow them and see they’re walking – walking up to the top of Flute.

You don’t have the gear but you strap on your skis or board and start up. There’s enough of them to make you realize they know something you don’t, and it’s got to be good.

Earning my turns #whistlerblackcomb #bluebirdday #hiking

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The long way up • @ioandavies

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You’re sweating up a storm at the top and your heart hasn’t pumped that fast since you’re first date, but you see where everyone is going. And the down is viciously sweet.

 Welcome to slackcountry, where just a short jaunt uphill from the ski lifts gives you access to even more fresh pow – a veritable blank canvas that is waiting for you to float and drift on the most heavenly white gold you’ve ever experienced. It’s so smooth and buttery that you want to bottle it up and take it with you.

Out here, you earn your turns and walk up to get the best rides down.

Perfect day for a walk! #musicalbumps #oboe

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You soon realize you’ve got to get better gear, so you invest in an Avalanche Skills Training (AST) course, buy a beacon, shovel and probe, and find yourself out on Decker, Corona Bowl, or the Musical Bumps every time you’re out.

And then the epic stories start trickling in – ones of people sleeping out overnight on the Spearhead, or shredding Heartstrings up on the Duffey.

So you tag along, and suddenly you’re pack is a lot bigger than it was and you’re not walking for only an hour. You’re walking for a few hours, and you’re almost deadbeat exhausted, but the ride down is the most incredible you’ve ever experienced.

And the views. Nothing beats those views.

Now you’re in the real backcountry, where understatements reign supreme when someone suggests you “go for a walk” and “just pop over that ridge”. The walks are long and the lifts are far away. Cell service is unavailable and if things go sideways, it’s up to you and your buds to get you out.

In other words, you’re in the heart of nature.

Just above Matier Glacier icefall enjoying the fat coastal snowpack.

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And for some, this is the best place to be. Your days are long and you carry your own food, water, and tent, and somehow you are more connected to the land than you’ve ever been.

But when you return home and tell others about what you’ve done, they raise their eyebrows and say “You walked? Up a hill?” and give you the look that says you’re whacked.

And maybe you are.

But there’s a whole lot of you out there, exploring the backcountry.

And for those that don’t ride the backcountry, there is no shame – no shame at all, in playing it safe and riding the lifts. After all, a blue bird day is a blue bird day no matter where you are.

Or how whacked you can be.

Cover photo: Mike Crane