I’ve been traveling in the winter backcountry for most of my life with no formal avalanche education. While most of my activities have been fairly low risk for avalanche exposure, and I’ve listened to some avalanche awareness presentations, I finally admit that those measures are not sufficient in the long term for my activities. It’s time to acquire some tools and learn how to use them. I buy a beacon and probe to accompany my shovel, a snow saw so I can do column tests in a snow pit if I want, and sign up for a 3-day level 1 avalanche safety course with Jackson Hole Mountain Guides. The prerequisite reading is Snow Sense: A Guide to Evaluating Snow Avalanche Hazard, which is informative, practical, and inexpensive.
The course is absolutely worthwhile. Some of the best things are:
- Having 3 experienced guides to answer questions and critique performance. You can get most of the information presented in the course elsewhere, but having this kind of feedback and instruction was really valuable.
- Coordinated practice. Reading the manual for gear, especially a beacon, is not the same as using it. Again, tips and feedback from the guides while practicing was crucial.
- Outings. There was an outdoor component of the course each day, two of them in the backcountry. These were small guided trips, complete with some basic gear and travel instruction, and turns on the way down!
I’m mostly busy learning, but I grabbed a couple of quick pictures of the outings. Day 1 we rode the lift up Snow King and practiced beacon searches on the way down.
Day 2 we go a little ways into the mountains and dig a snow pit.
Day 3 is the biggest tour, with a solid climb over the Snake river valley.
At last I feel ready to take some real responsibility for myself and my companions in the backcountry. My ability to avoid avalanche risk is much improved, and for the first time I’ll be able to respond if I (or others nearby) fail to avoid an avalanche.