Backcountry adventures: What to be aware of

This is the second part of a two-part article. Read the previous part to find out about backcountry touring’s effect on nature.

What is usually on your checklist before you go out into the backcountry? On top of most people’s minds would be studying maps, taking a look at the weather and avalanche reports, and checking their equipment. However, one factor that is seldom given enough attention is one’s impact on nature. Backcountry routes tend to traverse areas of natural beauty and trails less trodden where nature is at its most fragile. With ever increasing numbers venturing out into the backcountry than ever before, it is important that people are aware of how to minimise their impact on nature in this terrain.

Sustainable behaviour

In order to minimise your impact when you are in the backcountry, there are some key points that should be taken into consideration. An increase in the number of backcountry tourers in the last few years has led to increased pressure on nature. In some instances this pressure has brought certain areas to their natural breaking point. Such pressure intensifies after sunset. Just like humans, animals also need time to rest. The use of modern headlamps disturbs wildlife as it confuses them and causes them to come out from their rest places. In turn, this results in the animals wasting energy, weakening them. Evening tours result in increased pressure on wildlife and the ecosystem, and does not correspond to the environmentally-friendly image of backcountry touring.

Before embarking on a backcountry adventure, you should always study a map and plan out your route properly. Many make the mistake of going through protected forests which function as barriers against avalanches and erosion. In addition, if weather and snow reports indicate that snow levels are low, then you should think twice before going into the backcountry as the sharp edges of skis can damage vegetation. One golden rule is that you should be considerate of your environment. This involves avoiding areas where wildlife seek shelter, areas with young vegetation, and protected areas in general. For example, it would be better to venture across an open field as opposed to going through the forest. Generally speaking, the European Wilderness Society’s Respect Nature guidelines are also a good guide to responsible behaviour in nature and the backcountry.

Expert advice

In some parts of the Alps, such as Austria and Germany, there are ski-touring trails which can help you minimise your impact on the environment. This reduces the chance that you will disturb wildlife on your backcountry tour. One notable scheme that has been established in the Alps to help minimise the effect of backcountry touring is Skibergsteigen Umweltfreundlich (Environmentally Friendly Ski Mountaineering) from the German Alpine Club (DAV).

The project has aimed to publish guidelines to make backcountry touring more sustainable, minimise the negative impacts of backcountry activities, raise general awareness about environmentally friendly practices in the backcountry, and find alternative routes for backcountry tourers where environmental harm is too great by providing signage and guides to point people in the right direction. In many frequently visited areas, the DAV has marked out sensitive habitats and protected areas with signage to communicate to people that they should avoid such areas.

The requirements are that you keep to the applicable rules and avoid sensitive areas of nature.

Roman Ossner
Environment and Nature at the Munich German Alpine Club Section

10 tips for an environmentally friendly trip to the backcountry

The DAV has published a set of guidelines that will help you take greater care of nature when you are in the backcountry.

If you are planning to go skitouring, splitboarding or snowshoeing, you should be aware of these 10 tips for a nature-compatible winter trip. Although these tips apply specifically to trips in the German backcountry, general advice can be taken from them, wherever you are based.

10 guidelines for an environmentally friendly trip to the backcountry

1. Stay on the recommended routes: signs from the German Alpine Club’s (DAV) Naturally on Tour campaign (Natürlich auf Tour) indicate sensitive areas.

2. Respect protected areas and wildlife zones; avoid making noise.

3. Whenever possible, avoid all contact with wild animals, do only observe them from a distance. Avoid feeding sites. Keep dogs on a leash.

4. In midwinter, avoid peaks and ridges before 10:00 and after 16:00.  

5. Stay on forest roads and marked paths in forested areas and at the tree line; keep a distance from isolated groups of trees and shrubs.  

6. Preserve reforestation areas and young forests.  

7. Use environmentally-friendly transportation: public transport or car-sharing; use marked parking areas; do not block driveways.  

8. Plan multi-day trips rather than taking multiple day trips; eat locally.  

9. Plan tours with guide books and maps that are certified by the DAV.  

10. Ski touring within ski resort boundaries: respect the rules!

Source: Guidelines for a sustainable trip to the backcountry, Deutscher Alpenverein

Next time you go on your backcountry trip, make sure to bear in mind these tips and take care of nature! Have fun and stay safe!

This is the second part of a two-part article. Read the previous part to find out about backcountry touring’s effect on nature.

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