backcountry ski colorado

Backcountry Ski Colorado with Gary Fondl and His Daughter Sophia

To backcountry ski in Colorado with the legendary Gary Fondl and his daughter Sophia was inspiring, educational, and exhausting. I mean, how can anyone expect to keep up with the man who has skied something like 3 million vertical feet? Getting to know these two and telling their Liberty Skis Origin Story was a highlight of our year.

Dive behind the scenes with us as we talk about the Liberty Skis Origin Stories photo shoot. We’ll share the story and answer your questions about backcountry skiing in Colorado. We filmed in late spring but with these two we could have filmed almost any day of the year because one of the things Gary is known for is year-round skiing.

Mayflower Gulch trail was selected as our destination for the photo shoot. If you haven’t been, it’s a great destination to hike or ski in any season complete with some history and beautiful towering peaks. I hope you’re inspired by the photos, the video, and the stories of skiers who call these mountains home.

backcountry skis

Liberty Skis Origin Story in the Colorado Backcountry

Gary and Sohpia ski for Liberty Skis, a Colorado-based ski brand with 20 years of experience helping skiers do what they love. We had the honor of capturing their father-daughter story of a shared passion for the mountains.

Gary and Sophia are a father-daughter team that inspired us with their passion, joy, and approach to life. When we weren’t skiing, we were laughing and hearing incredible stories of their times in the mountains.

Backcountry skiing requires climbing before you can descend. It’s those moments of hard work surrendering to the mountain that I remember best. And if you do it right at the end of the run you’re like Gary saying, “One more lap!”

Backcountry Skiing Colorado Year-Round

Colorado is a great place for year-round backcountry skiing. The ski resorts are often open from November through April but avid skiers can find a way to ski year round. Backcountry touring opens up possibilities for skiing low angle early season snow or high-altitude late-season chutes.

Few skiers have as much experience in the backcountry as Gary Fondl and experience is crucial to avalanche safety. When you are familiar with an area you are aware of possible avalanche danger per the season and location. That experience helps you make wise decisions about your skiing tour.

Based in Summit County, Colorado, Gary and his fellow ski bums skip the lift lines in favor of open bowls that most visitors never see. When it’s just you and the terrain, you don’t need a resort or a season pass. It doesn’t even need to be winter.

What Makes a Good Ski Day?

Take this shoot that took place in May. It wasn’t fluffy powder but it was a beautiful day in the centennial state. We didn’t even have to hike that far to get to the snow, though some skiers do put in a lot of effort for a few backcountry runs. Hanging out with Gary taught me that it’s your mindset that makes for a good backcountry ski day.

Ski touring isn’t about perfect powder or bluebird backcountry weather. It’s about being outside on the mountain with your team and having an adventure. As I look towards the coming winter I’m focused more on what there is to explore rather than only accepting the best conditions.

Gary has a contagious enthusiasm for skiing that inspires his daughter and spreads out from there.

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Gary and Sophia Fondl
ski in the mountains
human powered skiing

Ski Bum Life

Gary Fondl is a self-proclaimed Ski Bum. During our interview, we dove into what exactly it means to be a ski bum these days. Gary and his friends work hard to be able to choose how to spend their time.

The impression of a ski bum simply couch surfing and skiing with no responsibilities isn’t quite accurate, the lifestyle has gotten more expensive. Instead, Gary works as a drywall contractor to be able to live in close proximity to where he loves to ski. To him, being a ski bum is really simply being someone who loves skiing and is passionate about it.

“It’s a freedom… It’s a lifestyle.”

As Sophia adds, “It’s a slower way of living.”

They value being out on the mountain together and enjoying the day. Eight days a week. Gary is the type of guy that’s known for that mountain stoke. There’s always “one more lap” to make the day on the mountain a better adventure.

father daughter backcountry ski team
ski in colorado backcountry

Backcountry Skiing FAQ

Inspired by Gary and his daughter? Interested in backcountry skiing? Below are some answers to some frequently asked questions about skiing in the backcountry.

What is considered backcountry skiing?

Backcountry skiing is when you ski outside of the ski resort boundaries. You typically both ascend and descend by the power of your own two legs. Backcountry skiing is also sometimes called alpine touring, ski mountaineering, or human-powered skiing.

Is alpine touring the same as backcountry skiing? Is ski mountaineering the same as backcountry skiing?

Backcountry skiing, ski mountaineering, and alpine touring are all different terms to describe human-powered skiing where the skier skis uphill in order to go down. Ski touring is typically done outside of the resort without the use of a ski lift. You’ll need specialized ski gear such as Liberty Skis backcountry series which are skis “light enough to haul to the summit and strong enough to rip the descent.”

The different terms might be used slightly differently based on the goals of the skier. For example, ski mountaineers often have a goal of summiting mountain peaks and then skiing back down. Alpine touring might mean a multi-day trip where someone skis from one backcountry hut to another.

Why is backcountry skiing better?

People like backcountry skiing because it allows them to escape the crowd and explore a variety of terrain. Backcountry skiers can make fresh tracks in the solitude of nature and create their own adventure based on their skill level. A lot of people also enjoy the exercise that comes with the uphill component of human-powered skiing.

Can you use downhill skis for the backcountry?

You can technically use downhill skis for backcountry skiing as long as you have backcountry ski bindings and boots. You have to be able to release your heel so that you can skin uphill and then lock your hill down for skiing down. You’ll also need skins fitted to your skis for climbing traction on the uphill.

A lot of backcountry skiers prefer a backcountry-specific ski that is lighter weight because you don’t want to be pushing a heavy ski uphill when you’re climbing. Depending on the type of skiing you plan you do you’ll want to find the right balance of a ski that’s lightweight for uphill and one that’s strong enough for downhill when choosing your alpine touring gear.

Is backcountry skiing an extreme sport?

Backcountry skiing is likely considered an extreme sport because of the experience and skill required as well as the potential risks of adventure. Like with many sports there are ways to make them more or less extreme. Some skiers are descending steep chutes while others are playing it safe on the low-angle slopes in the trees.

There’s no ski patrol in the backcountry like there is in a ski area and you might be a long ways from town. So if you’re interested in backcountry skiing there are professional guides with knowledge of both the avalanche terrain, avalanche conditions, and avalanche safety gear. There are even backcountry ski areas where they do avalanche control. Hope you have a great trip this winter!

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