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Backcountry skiing, also called off piste skiing, is skiing in the backcountry on ungroomed and unmarked slopes or pistes, including skiing in unmarked or unpatrolled areas either inside or outside of a ski resort's boundaries, sometimes in the woods. Unlike groomed cross-country and alpine skiing, the land and the snow pack are not monitored, patrolled, or maintained.
The terms backcountry and off-piste refer to where the skiing is being done, while terms like ski touring, ski mountaineering, telemark, and extreme skiing describe what type of skiing is being done. Terms for backcountry skiing exist according to how the terrain is accessed, and how close it is to services. Backcountry can include the following:
- Frontcountry: off-trail within ski area boundaries where ski lifts and emergency services are close at hand.
- Slackcountry: terrain outside of the ski area boundary that is accessed from a lift without having to use skins or bootpack. Usually this also bears true with access getting back to the lift as well. For purists, this could also include areas like Beartooth Pass where people ski from switchback to switchback and use a car as a shuttle.
- Sidecountry: terrain outside marked ski area boundaries yet accessible via ski lift. Typically sidecountry requires the skier to hike, skin, or climb within ski area boundaries to reach or return from the sidecountry area, or both.
- Backcountry: skiing in remote areas not within ski area boundaries. Ski patrol, marked ski runs, grooming, snowmaking, and ski lifts are absent. Backcountry skiing can be hazardous due to avalanche, exhaustion, weather, cliffs, rock fall, and tree wells, so skills for handling these hazards are required.
In Europe and Canada off-piste skiing is generally permitted at ski resorts. In the United States off-piste skiing may or may not be; regulations vary by ski area. Many ski resorts prohibit it outright and some simply post warning signs that skiers are leaving the patrolled ski area boundaries.