Over the years what most people do with their mountain bikes has had more to do with the "biking" half of the name than the "mountain." Using a bike to climb and descend a mountain was a fairly niche pastime, the domain of super-fit, experienced riders who were willing to make the harsh equipment compromises from the kit available to them. The choice was stark but simple - do you opt for a lightweight bike that will make the climbs, but suffer on the downs, or a capable descender that you're probably going to have to push most of the way up? If you read the review of any modern 120-160mm bike it should quickly become clear that this is no longer the case, better bikes mean getting up into the real mountains is now a realistic possibility for more riders than ever before. For just a few thousand dollars/pounds/euros you can get an incredibly versatile bike that makes big, backcountry rides achievable for riders with regular, human levels of fitness and ability. Yet heading up into remote backcountry zones fundamentally changes the ride, the possibilities of things going very wrong and getting very real multiply the farther out from the world you ride.
As more and more people head out that far, the simple math dictates that many of them are going to be ill-prepared to deal with the unforgiving nature of high mountains. For winter sports, backcountry awareness courses are common. Before you head out away from the resorts or trail centers, you are expected to understand the terrain and the challenges you may face. While it would be untrue to argue that mountain biking carries the same risks as snow sports (precisely, because the snow is not present in the same way), the dangers are still real. Conditions can change quickly, the terrain can be incredibly unforgiving, with massive exposure. And if something goes wrong, help may be a too far away to reach you in time. Quite simply, if you take mountains lightly they will chew you up and spit you out. So, as backcountry riding grows in popularity, is it time mountain bikers start educating themselves to ride in the big mountains?