Skiing or snowboarding on backcountry snow requires good balance. Of the four skills identified by professional instructors (balance, steering, edging, and pressure), balance is the fundamental skill, especially on ungroomed snow.
These skills are needed no matter what kind of gear one uses. The considerations are the same whether one uses alpine (randonnée) or telemark gear or a snowboard. Better equipment certainly does help, but buying more gear does not assure success. It takes time and effort to learn to ski or ride well.
The late Allan Bard used to emphasize that a backcountry skier needs many techniques and turns, not just those used to impress tourists at resorts. Allan thought skiing the face of Mammoth with a full pack using only wedge turns was good practice.
It's not just learning to "ski parallel" or telemark. These are specific techniques that work only sometimes.
An accomplished backcountry skier knows when to use kick turns, traverses, wedge christies and wedge telemarks, stem turns, hop and jump turns, whether skidded, carved, or steered.
InstructionWe've collected some skiing tips that might be useful. For professional-caliber instructional articles, see the websites of the Professional Ski Instructors of America or the American Association of Snowboard Instructors. They have archived numerous articles with graphics showing demo team members skiing and riding. Look at the body positions in those photos to see examples of good balance.
To demonstrate what we mean, here's SMS member and PSIA Nordic Downhill Examiner Dennis Yates skiing powder and bumps at Big Bear Mt in 1998. This is a compressed video (126K file, requires Quicktime). Hit the Back button to return. This video shows something important about the modern telemark turn! One starts and finishes the turn on the same (rear) ski, all in one motion, making the turn very quick when done properly.