You've had a season's pass to your local mountain for a decade and lap runs like they're mole hills. You're ready to hit the backcountry and maybe even some bigger lines. But how? To take it to the next level you need a good guide, and to get the most out of him or her, preparation is key.
I talked with Eric Henderson, lead guide with Jackson Hole Alpine Guides, bad-ass tele skier, and veteran Alaska heli-ski guide, for some tips on how to prepare for a big ski trip—say, big lines outside of Valdez, Alaska or bagging the Grand Teton. If you take only one piece of advice, it's this: Put your ego away and listen to your guide. "When you're with a guide, you have to remember that you're paying that person to be the professional," says Henderson. "Listening keeps you safer, which allows you to go farther and faster."
1. Incorporate training into your everyday life. I always tell those executives in New York City, do not take the elevator. Always walk the steps. Then start running up the steps and down the steps. Start adding weight to your laptop bag. Fitness isn't always facilitated by the gym but by the environment—that's what motivates people. If you're an advanced client, you're doing yoga, riding the stationary bike at least three times a week, and building core strength. Your muscles need to be used to the burn and build-up of lactic acid.
2. Mentally prepare. A lot of the time I send photos of the runs in Alaska and have skiers start picturing themselves on that slope and entering through the cornice opening. To me, visualization directly correlates with being an aggressive ski mountaineer. For me, I look at Meteorite [a run in Alaska where I crashed and broke my neck] every day so I can become more comfortable with it.
3. Stretching is key. One really essential stretch is laying on your back, making one leg completely straight, bringing one knee up, turning it so its 90 degrees, and pulling that hip flexor up. I do it 10 times on each side, which allows your psoas and lower back to loosen. The lower back is where most people complain right away, so it's got to be loose.
4. Test your gear. I see a lot of people buying the backcountry gear but not knowing how to work it. Familiarity with your gear is a key to success. Practice a burial. None of this look-at-the-probe shit—I want you to know how to use the probe. Make sure you have all your layers. And every three seasons, you should change your technical gear. Storing it causes unnoticeable wear and tear on your gear. I’ve been in a lot of rescue scenarios where probes break. You’ve got the money, upgrade.
5. Cut the booze. Water is really essential, and alcohol dehydrates you. Use electrolyte drinks. Minimize alcohol the night before big workouts and definitely before skiing to keep your body hydrated and keep fat from solidifying. On a big day, you've got to have your blood flowing, and the best way to do that is hydration.
6. Constantly fuel. I’m a big advocate of grazing. Your body is a furnace and you need to keep fueling your furnace. When I'm skiing, lunch begins right after breakfast. Every 45 minutes, I eat a Gu or some sort of a snack so I don't get to that critical bonk point. No matter who you are, an allstar Olympian or an executive, you have to keep fueling your body.
7. Earn the guide's trust. How? Follow directions and know a thing or two. The best client is someone who already knows how to use their beacon. I don't want them to dig a pit for me, but I want them to at least notice the weather. Also, if the clients are really not listening or have no concern for safety, they become a liability. The clients that listen, I’m going to deliver the goods.