I guess the correct terminology would be “I’m certified.” Although some people might say what I did this weekend makes me a little insane.
Of the 29 hours I was awake this weekend, I was outside for 19 of them. Outside in the snow, wind, rain, fog and sun. Yes, there were all of those present at some point in time. I’m in Montana remember? Where we have a saying that goes “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes.”
I officially finished my Avalanche 1 Certification this weekend. I talked about this endeavor a little bit in this post, but wanted to follow-up with something a little bit more positive. The classroom portion of the class definitely stirred up some unexpected emotions, but I think the field study portion really helped me focus on the tools I need to make educated decisions. Besides, when I’m in the backcountry, I want my decisions to be based 90% on fact and 10% on emotion (gut feelings/intuition, etc.). I know, I know….all you dudes out there are saying emotion shouldn’t come into play at all, but you’re kidding yourself if you say it doesn’t. And there’s something to be said about a woman’s intuition – did you know that the mere presence of a woman in your group can decrease your chances of being caught in a slide? It’s true.
So what were we doing for two days outside all day? Well….lots! Learning how to assess snowpack by digging pits, doing compression tests, extended column tests, rouchblock tests, examining the different layers of snow, types of snow, temperatures, terrain and aspects, learning about our transceivers, using them, burying them, creating actual burial scenarios….need I bore you more? Probably not. I’m sure most of you just want to see some pictures, eh? Well let me first just say that it’s kinda hard to take a lot of pictures when you’re supposed to be paying attention and learning something important. But I did my best for ya’ll.
We spent most of our time out-of-bounds at the Snowbowl Ski Area just north of town. There’s some pretty sweet backcountry terrain up there. There were 8 people in my class and 2 instructors; both of which were very cool. We used our backcountry gear (AT skis and skins) to tour around and do all of our exercises. In case you don’t know what skins are….they’re a nylon cover you stick to the bottom of your skis so you can get traction and climb uphill (i know i know) while on your skis. You need special (AT) bindings to do this too so you can get more of a walking motion with your skis. Touring is what you call “skinning” around in the backcountry.
The typical day went something like this: meet at the base of the ski hill around 8:30 and take the chair up to the mid-mountain warming lodge. There we built a fire and went over the goals for the day and usually had a small lecture on the tools we were going to be learning about. Then we’d take the second lift to the top of the mountain, ski to the area boundary and skin up (put our skins on). Then head out on a tour to start our exercises. We’d stay out in the backcountry all day and then head back to the base lodge around 3:30. Pretty sweet, eh? Now onto what you’re all waiting for, some eye candy. Keep in mind I was being a good student most of the time and not fooling with my camera. I’m sure you can all understand and appreciate that!
Day 1 – Analyzing Snowpack (a lot of standing around, diggin in and looking at the snow)
Backup. A rouchblock test?? What the….? Ok, so this is one of the tests you can complete to gauge how stable the snowpack is. For this particular test, you isolate a large block of snow (I forget the actual dimensions….but have them written down somewhere in my pack) and actually have a skier stand on it and “jump” until the block fails. Obviously the more times he can jump, the better the snowpack, eh?
Pretty cool eh? (Or is this the point where I’m considered a nerd?)
Day 2 – More snow analysis and beacon training
The morning of day 2, we arrived at the ski hill to find 7″ of fresh powder. I can’t say we were all that surprised because it snowed on us all day the day prior. The awesome news about that? Our instructor let us take a powder run. I have a sneaking suspicion it was because he couldn’t resist the pow either as he skis off saying: “Ok I’ll go first, just to make sure it’s safe….a.k.a. “you students aren’t stealing my line!”
It was pretty sweet that he let us do that. Plus, I learned of a few new stashes to hit out-of-bounds. Score.
Yes, we dug a pit before skiing it.
That’s my weekend in a nutshell. I know, I’m sorry my pics weren’t better. But it’s kinda hard to be leading a rescue scenario and pause for pictures. Ya know? “Newman! Talk to me, where are you at with victim number 1? What else do we have for a scruff search? Jenn, have you locked in on victim #2 yet? By the way everyone, pause and smile!”
I promise to try to get better about including myself in some of the photos though.
To wrap this all up: I’m extremely thankful I took this class. I honestly think everyone that spends time out in the backcountry should take it – that includes snowshoers, cross-country skiers, AT skiers/snowboarders and especially snowmobilers. It’s been a huge eye-opener for me in regards to the risks I’m taking every time I go out. Is it scary? Yes it is scary at times. Do I have the tools I need to make better decisions now? You better believe it. I have a whole new way to talk and communicate with my friends now when we’re out in the backcountry. And I have a way to express my concerns that’s actually somewhat scientific. How smart am I?
I’m still very sensitive to the emotional-side of all this, and my post from the other day is still 100% my belief. But I feel confident in my decision-making skills now. I’m not going to hole-up at home because I’m scared of an avalanche. Instead, I’m going to use these new tools to assess each situation before I go. I’m going to practice using my transceiver so that it’s second-nature. In fact, I’m already trying to coordinate friends to find a weekend that we can get out on a tour and practice some scenarios. Should make for a good post eh? Because when I’m in control, you can bet I’m going to be pausing for photo ops.
P.S. – I got some great ideas on some new items for my pack during this class. I’ll be doing an upcomming post about how I’ll be changing what I carry into the backcountry. Stay tuned…
P.P.S – For those of you worried about yet another weekend slipping by without a long run (see this post)…I’m very proud to report that I ran nine miles Saturday after class. In the dark. In the rain. Yes, you heard me. Whoo to the hoo.