If you’ve read my biography on the Meet The Crew you know that I’m the rookie. This is both a good and a bad thing. It’s good because all the old timers (I won’t name names) feel it necessary to show me the secret stashes, sweetest runs and the best apres ski watering holes. It’s bad because I have absolutely no idea what I’m getting myself into or the assumed risk that you take every time you click into your skis and head beyond resort boundaries.
Call me naive, but I’ve never worried about avalanches. Part of this may be due to growing up skiing in eastern Washington, which isn’t exactly a hotbed of avalanche activity. But I honestly think it’s because I was completely unaware of avalanches in general . . . until I moved to Utah.
People in Utah are serious about their avalanche safety. This fact is perfectly demonstrated by how quickly I got signed up for Back Tracks Avalanche Awareness Course. The conversation with my boss went something like this:
Boss – “Rookie, have you ever taken an avalanche course?”
Me – “Nope, do I need to?”
Boss – “Yes. And consider yourself signed up for the Avalanche Awareness Course tomorrow.”
And with that I was on my way to the Avalanche Awareness Course, not knowing what to expect and wondering how much there really is to learn about avalanches. Man, was I surprised. At no other time in my life have I gleaned more valuable information in a two-day span. Put on by Back Tracks, and taught by members of Solitude’s Professional Ski Patrol, the Avalanche Awareness Course was a great introduction to the identification of avalanche hazards and how to travel responsibly and safely outside resort boundaries.
Here are some of the more important and interesting factoids I took away from the course. Note: These may or may not be obvious to you, but I’m a rookie.
- 75% of avalanche victims are experienced backcountry recreationists.
- Most avalanches occur on slopes between 30 and 45 degrees.
- Cross avalanche terrain one at a time, not in groups.
- Snow pits and shear tests are the most reliable ways to analyze the safeness of the snowpack
- An avalanche is broken down into three parts: starting zone, track and run out zone
- There is more than one type of avalanche
Needless to say, I’m not naïve when it comes to avalanches anymore. And if I were to give one piece of advice to anyone thinking of venturing into the backcountry it would be to take the Avalanche Awareness Course.