Go Take an Avalanche Course!

Flat Iron Mountain

Do you love escaping into the wonders of mother nature’s mysterious backcountry, roosting up powder with every turn, and skiing lines that have never been skied before? These thrills are what every backcountry adventurer dreams of, but can we predict mother natures un-predictable?

Backcountry dreams

This past weekend I landed myself in the odd town of Libby, Montana, thanks to SheJumps, AIARE, and SOLE experiences. I drove 28 hours from Michigan to Montana to ski with eight of the west’s raddest ladies and learn about one of the most deadly uncertainties of the backcountry. SOLE is a non profit that provides a team of professionals to educate communities on real world outdoor experiences. The most inspirational thing about SOLE is they are passionate about educating young outdoor adventurers who might never have the opportunity to do so otherwise.

Using clinometers and reading terrain

I must also give a hearty shout out to SheJumps for giving us ladies the opportunity to gain confidence together in the backcountry. It was a blessing in disguise that the original course I tried to sign up for was full and that I ended up in this all ladies course.  This opportunity was perfect for building confidence in our backcountry decision making skills in a reassuring and non-intimidating environment.

Snow stoke

Did you know that every season about 27 people are killed by the precious white powder we crave?… However, this avalanche toll doesn’t count those who managed to stay above or have been dug out by rescues. Keep in mind, it’s not just skiers that are at risk, it’s anyone who steps foot in the winter backcountry.

Rescue Scenarios

While it may seem obvious that an avalanche safety course is vital to backcountry safety, sometimes it is hard to manage with minimal free time, and money. Attending such a course can be an expensive and time consuming proposition when you work part-time at a ski shop and have to travel across the country. BUT if you put in a bit of research and time there are some options for scholarships. Organizations such as AIARE and SOLE try to help those in need in exchange for a bit of writing, videos, and photos about the experience

Summit to check out wind slab

I have traveled in the backcountry for years but, this was my first course on avalanche safety. This course made me realize how much I didn’t know, and still don’t know, about mother nature’s pow filled playground.

George – Avalanche Extraordinaire

George and Jane, our fearless leaders led us in indoor and outdoor classroom sessions, providing us with the knowledge and skills to analyze backcountry terrain and conditions. Although I am mostly a hands-on learner, I found the indoor sessions to be extremely illuminating. Grasping snow science, crystalline structures, snowpack variations, group coordination, avalanche forecasting, and learning from case studies was truly fascinating. In the field, we were able to build off the indoor studies and run through rescue scenarios, snow pit assessments, group coordination, safe skiing and plan tours using avalanche and weather forecasts.

Snow pit and snowpack investigation

slabs on slabs

Snow crystal identification

Many of us, if you are like me have had thoughts in the backcountry like, “How do I survive in an avalanche?, or how would I rescue my friend?” This class made me realize the answer is to try our very best to never be in a critically dangerous situation in the first place. This course really drove home the importance of reading terrain, weather, group dynamics, and most of all… decision making. These are the real saviors in the backcountry.

Cornice fall

The other big eye opener for me was I went into the class thinking “Great, I am going to learn as much as possible so I can determine red or green lights on certain runs” This was a huge misconception on my part, and I am guessing for others as well. George blew my mind by explaining there really isn’t going to be a clear red or green light by defining the snowpack. The best we can do is learn as much as we can so that we can make the best decisions on whether to drop in, or turn back.

Practicing group dynamics

If there is one thing I have learned about the backcountry, it is that nothing is guaranteed, and that the tiniest mistakes can be fatal. Courses like this one are SO important whether you are new to the backcountry playground or have been roosting pow for 10 years. 

If you still are not sold on the idea here is a little perspective. Not only could this information save your life one day, but…

  1. You get to spend time in the backcountry digging and playing in the white powder we all crave

    Extended column tests

  2. You will meet other backcountry enthusiasts who will be rad shred mates with the added plus that, they are educated to save your life!

    Pow turns

  3. You get to go on a ski trip in new terrain. There are even hut trip, lodge, and other overnight options to really make the experience into a ski vacation, a real lifesaver … in every sense of the phrase!

    Free the heel

  4. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER 

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