Low-Angle Love Story: Embracing the Gentle Slopes of Backcountry Skiing

There’s an allure to the high peaks and steep slopes that dominate the landscape of backcountry skiing. The adrenaline rush, the challenging turns, and the sense of conquering the mountain are what many skiers live for. And we get it. Many of us on the onX Backcountry team yearn for springtime snowpack stability and chasing epic lines in the big mountains. But there’s another, often overlooked aspect of backcountry skiing that deserves its spotlight—the low-angle terrain. Often, as backcountry skiers, low-angle outings make up the bulk of the days we get out on snow. Whether we entered the sport with aspirations of skiing low-angle pow or whether we dream of steep couloirs, the reality is that much of the time in this sport is spent savoring these days bopping around on low angle terrain. In this ode to tamer terrain, we’ll celebrate these gentler slopes and explore why they are a treasure trove of joy and adventure.

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The Unsung Hero of the Backcountry

Low-angle terrain, defined as pitches with an incline of less than 30 degrees, is sometimes seen as the less glamorous cousin of steeper slopes. But for those who know, these slopes offer a world of their own, rich with possibilities and devoid of the crowds often found on steeper terrain. It’s a world where every turn is a dialogue with the snow, and the mountain speaks in a gentler tone. And contrary to what many think, they can be thrilling and downright fast.

A Refuge from Avalanche Risk

One of the most compelling reasons to embrace low-angle skiing is safety. Steep slopes often carry higher avalanche risk, a danger that even the most experienced skiers must respect. Low-angle terrain, conversely, is generally safer and less prone to avalanches, making them ideal for those days when the avalanche forecast is less than favorable. Especially this season, where persistent weak layers riddle snowpacks across the country, we are especially grateful for safer low-angle slopes. 

You can find low-angle terrain in onX Backcountry using the Slope Angle Layer, which shades your map based on slope angle. Keep an eye out for green and yellow slopes on your map when the Slope Angle layer is turned on—these colors signify slopes below 30 degrees. Keep in mind that you should always verify the slope angle with what you’re seeing on the ground. Ski with your head up, and don’t get lost in your phone. 

This year, we’ve added another tool to your arsenal called the Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES). This layer integrates multiple variables to effectively map and visualize avalanche terrain, providing a unified language for discussing terrain in relation to avalanche risk. Remember that it isn’t just about the terrain you’re on. What’s uphill matters, and the ATES Scale Layer helps us make sure we’re not cruising below dangerous terrain that could easily slide. 

The Joy of Exploration

Low-angle terrain beckons the explorer in every skier. These areas often feature wide-open meadows, gentle glades, and rolling hills that are perfect for those who love to take in the scenery and enjoy the journey. They encourage exploration and wandering, where the focus shifts from conquering steep descents to discovering hidden nooks and crannies of the mountain. It’s about the journey, not just the destination.

You can find your own low-angle ski touring zone in the Backcountry App by using the Slope Angle, Slope Aspect, and ATES Layers combined with Satellite Imagery to understand tree cover in the areas you’re seeking to ski. Pair that with Recent Imagery and SNOTEL data to determine the snow conditions on the ground and Avalanche Forecasts to better understand the hazards. You can also pick from thousands of curated guidebook adventures, many of which are low-angle tours. Additionally, we have Beacon Guidebooks’ two “Light Tours” books specifically focused on mellower terrain integrated into the App, featuring ski lines across Colorado and California. 

A Social Affair

Skiing on low-angle terrain often lends itself to a more social experience. Groups can ski together without the fragmentation and group tensions that steeper slopes might cause. It’s a place for shared laughter, conversations, and the collective appreciation beauty. Here, families and friends of varying skill levels can enjoy the day together while creating bonds and memories.

Develop Your Skills

For those new to backcountry skiing or looking to refine their technique, low-angle terrain offers the perfect playground. The gentler slopes allow for a more relaxed environment to practice turns, control, and overall technique. It provides the space and safety needed to experiment and grow as a skier without the pressure of navigating through more complex and challenging terrain.

Enjoy the Scenery

Amidst the low-angle slopes, the beauty of the backcountry shines in its full glory. These areas are often less trafficked and offer pristine snow conditions and a connection with nature that can be hard to find on busier, steeper slopes. It’s where you can find silence, save for the sound of your skis gliding through the snow and the wind whispering through the trees.

So, It’s a Date?

The world of low-angle backcountry skiing is one filled with beauty, safety, and joy. We love low-angle terrain because it’s welcoming to everyone from the seasoned veteran to the novice explorer. As we continue to write our love story with the mountains, let’s not forget these gentle slopes that offer so much. Embrace the low-angle terrain, and discover a different kind of adventure—one that’s just as thrilling, just as beautiful, and just as worthy of our love.

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