Words: T. Bird
You hear about it every year at least once. A bunch of kids venture out into the backcountry to enjoy a day in the mountains, and them boom, they inadvertently set off a slide. Now this could be game over for some, maybe not for others, but regardless, there's some hairy shit back there in them woods, and the best protection you have is to get educated, because as someone much smarter than me once said, "The mountains don't care that your mother, father, friends and family love you and will miss you when you're gone." It's a chilling but true statement as every year, mountain enthusiasts head to the hills in search of challenge and adventure, but if you aren't educated about the perils that these ranges can cause, you're eventually in for some serious shit that you'd rather not deal with. Trust me.
This past weekend, I headed out to Salt Lake City to take part in the inaugural Avalanche Freeride Summit at Snowbird. Incepted by the Snowbird staff and avalanche rescue guru Craig Gordon, the class aims to inform backcountry buffs about the dangers that lurk off-piste while understanding the simple mantra that they reiterate throughout the two-day, twenty hour course, "The best accident is no accident." Simple, really, and I was surprised to learn that the majority of the class were relative novices at the beginning of Thursday's class and when it was all said and done, we all left Snowbird with at least three times the knowledge that we had before we walked in the door.
"The mountains don't care that your mother, father, friends and family love you and will miss you when you're gone."
The course consisted of a good blend of classroom time, with presentations from different Wasatch resorts' patrolling elite and a few other mega-authorities on backcountry safety, and hands-on field training. From recovering beacons to searching techniques and digging snowpits, these dudes covered the bases, but that was all secondary stuff. Their main goal was not to simply show us what to do if a massive slide buried you and your crew, but more importantly, they wanted to make sure that first and foremost, we knew how to prevent them by identifying terrain, reading slopes, finding "safe zones" and myriad testing methods of the snowpack to ensure that if we chose to ride, we did everything we could to try and prevent a tragedy. Long story short, the instructors were incredibly informative and extremely helpful, and they're not doing this for profit, by any means. It's actually quite the opposite. They're doing this to make sure that when people go out into the backcountry, they're safe. Basically, because they do care that your mother, father, family and friends will miss you when you're gone."
I recommend this class to anyone interested, and I would like to thank all of the instructors, Jared Ishkanian and all of his colleagues at Snowbird, and most importantly, Craig Gordon and his crew of tutors that made us all feel a little bit better about being safe out of bounds.
For more information, go to utahavalanchecenter.org or call (888) 999-4019