Partners on a pow day. PHOTO: Garrett Grove

Partners on a pow day. PHOTO: Garrett Grove

WORDS: Doug Krause

Doug Krause is a skier, guide, patroller, and forecaster from Silverton, Colorado. His favored locales include the Andes, Rockies, and Chugach Mountains.

Who you ski with is potentially more consequential than what you ski. A strong partner enhances your ability to crush deep powder in big mountains and to meadow skip in the sun with beer and hot dogs. Choosing a partner is an undervalued backcountry skill.

Poor choices are easily recognized. They are long on mouth and short on ears. Displays of irrational exuberance and an inability to support opinions are hallmarks of the brazen twit. The overly passive drag on a partnership, adding little.

Start with a plan. Ideally, you seek someone who complements your strengths and supplements your weaknesses, but make sure you bring something to the relationship. Both sides benefit from a partnership. Consider the following characteristics: ability, attitude, and communication.

Ability manifests with a few words or a couple of turns. Look for a partner with comparable technical skill and fitness.

Discerning compatible attitudes is more subtle. Seek someone with similar goals and notions of acceptable risk. A mismatch will lead to trouble at high consequence decision-making junctures.

Effective communicators speak and listen with purpose around relevant considerations in a timely fashion. "Yo dude, sick pow" is endearing and always timely, but not purposeful.

A bloke I never skied with called me. His skill, experience, and fitness levels are extremely high. In terms of goals and risk, he has a history of pulling off some impressive shit. What about communication?

Our communication started with a five- or 10-minute discussion of the proposed line, new to us both, unseen by me. I asked about terrain and he texted me a photo and described it in fair detail. We were off to a great start.

The next morning we reconnoitered the approach and fell into discussion about the snowpack and route. The direct route looked doable but scrappy. We opted for the question mark of an old mule track through some rock bands. The mules nailed it.

Over the tour we probably talked route selection 20 times and snowpack 10 but typically for only 20-30 seconds at a time. Consensus indicated that we had similar attitudes towards risk and goals for the day. We ruminated on the delight of a new zone and skied a sweet line.

Effective communication defines a strong partnership and can surmount challenges of mismatched ability or attitude. Pick your partner with care.

  Last week’s backcountry tip: Where you ski in the backcountry matters