What To Know When Self-Quarantining In The Backcountry

With resorts closing down around the world, it is inevitable that more riders will be looking to the backcountry to self-quarantine. And while that sounds like the best place for some isolated time to yourself, you should never go alone. No matter your skill level, it is always important to have the info and equipment to ride safely out of bounds. We dug through the archives and found a compiled list of info regarding North American Avalanche resources and reports. This by no means is enough info alone to go out and earn your turns, but it is a great place to start.

words by Mary Walsh

The backcountry is an alluring place: untracked lines, a lack of crowds, and a profuse supply of powder are accessible via bootpacks, split tracks, and sled-ready trailheads. But while it’s easy to let your guard down when making turns at your favorite resorts, where varying degrees of avalanche danger and dedicated patrollers working ‘round the clock to mitigate dangerous conditions are the norm, beyond the ropes it’s a completely different story. North America’s wildest peaks offer treasure troves of snow and a unique experience that beckons each and every powder hound and it is necessary that we prepare ourselves with the right equipment and proper knowledge before we head into the alpine, not only for our own safety, but for that of those around us. Learning about the terrain, snow conditions and characteristics, as well as practicing how to use safety gear—namely your beacon, probe, and shovel—are paramount to enjoying your days spent chasing fresh snow and doing so safely. “The backcountry can be your best friend, or worst enemy,” says Gray Thompson, who spends much of his winter in Tahoe backcountry. “There are no boundaries, signs, or patrol to come to your aid—everything is left to you and your partners; risk is present the second you leave the car. It’s truly a step into the unknown. Every day in the backcountry is a learning experience, whether you’re new to the endeavor or a veteran. However, there is a level of knowledge needed before you even set out: even a base line understanding of snow and avalanche conditions will allow you to decide if conditions are safe enough to spend the day in the backcountry or not. Fortunately, there are many educational resources readily available to begin the process of learning about snow, backcountry travel and mitigating the countless risks present. You must be proficient in reading avalanche terrain before setting out to avoid unwanted situations, but also know what to do if an avalanche occurs to keep yourself and partners safe.”

As the snow begins to fall and we plan the rugged lines we’d like to explore, we have compiled a list of North American avalanche resources as an introductory directory to learning more regardless of your locale. These regional centers post daily conditions and forecasts, as well as in depth reports of avalanche activity. They also can direct you to the numerous places that offer avalanche skills and safety courses. No matter what mountain range you call home, if you’re looking to break trail, we recommend enrolling in a level 1 course (like AIARE 1 in the US or Avalanche Skills Training 1 in Canada) along with an avalanche rescue course to learn the basics about reading terrain, snow science, and companion rescue before setting out. As snowboarding legend and Colorado local Chad Otterstrom puts it, “The more you know, the more you can ride.”

The following list is intended to be a resource, though it is not exhaustive. Check out the below avalanche centers and institutes in order to find specific course locations in your area. Stay up to date with local resources and take it from the Mayor of Mount Baker, Patrick McCarthy, who possesses years of experiences navigating the terrain and snowpack of the Pacific Northwest: “Keep your eyes on the forecast, make intelligent, well-thought out decisions, and don’t be afraid to say ‘it’s just not worth it’ sometimes.”

INFORMATION AND INSTRUCTION
Find a course near you: https://avalanche.org/avalanche-education/
American Avalanche Institute
Instagram – @avyinstitute
Facebook – /americanavalancheinstitute
Twitter – @AvyInstitute
https://www.americanavalancheinstitute.com/

It’s our responsibility to travel in the backcountry with as much knowledge as possible. Educating yourself is important, as well as educating those you will be riding with and practicing beacon searches together. This makes for the safest, most efficient backcountry experience. You are only as safe as the weakest link in your crew; it’s the other riders around you that are going to save your life. – Pat McCarthy, Bellingham, Washington

American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education – AIARE

125 W Virginia Ave #112
Gunnison, CO 81230

Facebook – /AIARE
http://avtraining.org/
Avalanche education is a practice, so if you only go to the class and then don’t use what you learned, it won’t do anything for you. It’s a process, a lifestyle, and habit. – Iris Lazzareschi, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Avalanche Canada Foundation

Box 560
Revelstoke, BC V0E 2S0
Canada

Instagram – @avalanchecanada
Facebook – /avalanchecanada
Twitter – @avalancheca
Forecast Regions – https://www.avalanche.ca/forecasts
https://www.avalanche.ca/

Get the real knowledge from professionals so you are able to make good decisions and communicate effectively with your crew. The best move is to actually do these courses with the people you ride with so you are all on the same page and working together. Experience is huge when it comes to the mountains, but having the knowledge in the classroom to back it up will only help you. Honestly when I took my first avalanche course, it made me a bit freaked out to go anywhere, but through continued education, the experience helped to open doors when they should be open and close them when you are not sure. – Robin Van Gyn, Whistler, BC

REGIONAL AVALANCHE CENTERS

ALASKA

Alaska Avalanche Information Center
Instagram – @alaskaavalancheinformationcenter
https://alaskasnow.org/

Cordova Avalanche Center
https://alaskasnow.org/forecasts-observations/cordova/cordova-avalanche-forecast/

Eastern Alaska Range Avalanche Center
Facebook – /earaccontact
https://alaskasnow.org/forecasts-observations/eastern-alaska/

Haines Avalanche Center
Facebook – /HainesAvalanche
https://alaskasnow.org/forecasts-observations/haines/haines-avalanche-forecasts/

Hatcher Pass Avalanche Center
Instagram – @h_p_a_c
Facebook – /HPAVALANCHE
http://www.hpavalache.org

Southeast Alaska Avalanche Center
Facebook – /Southeast-Alaska-Avalanche-Center-176106985746301/
http://www.juneau.org/avalanche/

Valdez Avalanche Center
Facebook – /Valdez-Avalanche-Center-136473413120843
https://alaskasnow.org/forecasts-observations/valdez/valdez-avalanche-forecasts/

Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center
Instagram – @chugachavy
Facebook – /FCNFAIC
Twitter – @ChugachAve
http://www.cnfaic.org/

ARIZONA

Kachina Peaks Avalanche Center
Instagram – @kachinapeaksavy
Facebook – /KachinaPeaksAvy
https://kachinapeaks.org/

CALIFORNIA

Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center
PO Box 1675
Mammoth Lakes, CA  93546
Instagram – @esavalanche
Facebook – /easternsierraavalanche.center
Twitter – @esavalanche
http://www.esavalanche.org/

Mount Shasta Avalanche Center
Mt. Shasta Ranger Station
Shasta-Trinity National Forest
204 West Alma Street
Mount Shasta, CA 96067
Instagram – @shastaavalanche
Facebook – /shastaavalanche
http://www.shastaavalanche.org/

Sierra Avalanche Center
11260 Donner Pass Rd.
Ste. C1 – PMB 401
Truckee, CA 96161
Instagram – @savycenter
Facebook – /sacnonprofit
Twitter – @sierraavalanche
https://www.sierraavalanchecenter.org/

The Sierra Avalanche center is paramount in my daily life throughout the winter. Their detailed and regularly updated website is my number one resource every day; I will examine the day’s avalanche bulletin early in the morning and read reports from their forecasters in the field before I make a decision about traveling into the backcountry or not. In addition, I will check the site again each night to see if there was avalanche activity during the day. The Sierra is a popular backcountry travel area and SAC does a great job of sending forecasters throughout the many areas to assess conditions early in the morning and report on avalanche activity. Because our terrain is so vast, covers many different elevations and aspects, and our weather experiences great temperature ranges, it’s important for me to utilize resources like the SAC to paint a picture of snow conditions in the entire area over the course of the entire season. – Gray Thompson, Truckee, California

CANADA

Avalanche Canada Foundation
https://www.avalanche.ca/forecasts

I check the bulletin every morning before going out in the backcountry, making sure to read the details and check the weather temps and precipitation. Don’t just look the rating and move from there. Read the details and find out what is making the forecast what it is. Problems can be location-specific, so I read in detail when the bulletin changes, so I can have a better grasp on where I am going and what it might do. I also check the Wayne Flann Avalanche Blog (http://www.wayneflannavalancheblog.com), which is a local report. There is also this tool called the Mountain Information Network on Avalance Canada’s website that allows the public to post location-specific problems seen in the field. Sometimes there are photos of slides or pit reports—all of these things can be super helpful to getting a better location-specific idea of what the snow is doing. We live in such a large area that having this info is important. – Robin Van Gyn, Whistler, BC

COLORADO

Colorado Avalanche Information Center
Instagram – @friendsofcaic
Facebook – /FriendsofCAIC
Twitter – @CAICstate and @friendsofcaic
Twitter for specific zones –
@CAICSteamboat
@CAICFrontrange
@CAICSummit
@CAICSawatch
@CAICAspen
@CAICGunnison
@CAICGrandmesa
@CAICnthsanjuan
@CAICsthsanjuan
@CAICsangrecrist
http://avalanche.state.co.us/

I think with the abundance of backcountry goers whether it be via sled, foot, or gate accessed terrain it is more important than ever to not let your guard down and be aware of what is going on with the conditions. Having a good crew that you trust and can have open dialogue with helps a ton as well. Taking a class can prepare you to make safe informative decisions. – Alex Pashley, Steamboat, CO

IDAHO

Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center
PO Box 405
Pondaray ID, 83852
Instagram – @idahopanhandleavy
Facebook – /friendsofipac
http://www.idahopanhandleavalanche.org/

Sawtooth Avalanche Center
Ketchum Ranger District – 206 Sun Valley Road
PO Box 2356
Ketchum, ID 83340
Instagram – @sawtoothavy
Facebook – /sawtoothavalanchecenter
Twitter – @sawtoothavy
https://www.sawtoothavalanche.com/

Payette Avalanche Center
PO Box 2177
McCall, Idaho 83638
Facebook – /payetteavalanche
Twitter – @UACwasatch
http://www.payetteavalanche.org

MONTANA

Flathead Avalanche Center
10 Hungry Horse Dr.
Hungry Horse, MT 59919
Instagram – @flatheadavalanche
Facebook – /friendsofflatheadavalanchecenter
Twitter – @FACAvalanche
http://www.flatheadavalanche.org/

Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center
P.O. Box 130
Bozeman, MT 59771
Instagram – @mtavalanche
Facebook – /friendsgnfac
Twitter – @AvalancheGuys
https://www.mtavalanche.com/

West Central Montana Avalanche Center – Missoula Avalanche
PO Box 72
Missoula, MT 59806
Instagram – @missoulaavalanche
Facebook – /missoulaavalanche
Twitter – @missoulaavy
https://missoulaavalanche.org/

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Mount Washington Avalanche Center
300 Glen Road
Gorham NH 03581 (this is the USFS Ranger District but is the only address on the site)
Instagram – @mwacenter
Facebook – /mwacenter
Twitter – @avalanchecenter
https://www.mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org/

OREGON

Wallowa Avalanche Center
P.O. Box 324
Joseph, Oregon 97846
Instagram – @wallowaavalanchecenter
Facebook – /wallowaavalanchecenter
Twitter – @avalancheoregon
https://www.wallowaavalanchecenter.org/

UTAH

Utah Avalanche Center
2242 West North Temple
Salt Lake City, UT 84116
Instagram – @utavy
Facebook – /Utah.Avalanche.Center
Twitter – @UACwasatch
https://utahavalanchecenter.org/

We are very fortunate to have the Utah Avalanche center as a tool out here in Utah. They do a great job of keeping everyone informed about the hazards and safety required when going out into the backcountry. Even friends I have out here that aren’t the biggest backcountry users know when the avalanche conditions are very hazardous due to the UAC’s ability to reach all demographics via social media, news, Youtube videos, telephone service, etc.  Since we live in an Intermountain snow regime, we need to be slightly more on our toes than Tahoe and the Pacific Northwest, so having a top-notch avalanche center helps heaps. There were no avalanche related deaths last season in the Wasatch and that is pretty damn awesome considering it is probably one of the most highly trafficked ranges in the west. Thank,s UAC! – Griffin Siebert, Salt Lake City, UT

WASHINGTON

Northwest Avalanche Center
15600 NE 8th St – Suite B1-711
Bellevue, WA 98008
Instagram – @nwacus
Facebook – /NWACUS
Twitter – @nwacus
http://www.nwac.us/

I always check the NWAC reports to figure out telemetry and precipitation amounts. I want to know where the snow is hitting the hardest and what elevations I will find the best snow quality. Simple things like allowing a day or two for the snow to settle, reading slope angles and making the conservative choices when necessary are some basic principles I follow. – Pat McCarthy, Bellingham, WA

WYOMING

Bridger Teton Avalanche Center
PO Box 424
Teton Village, WY 83025
Facebook – /Friends-of-Bridger-Teton-Avalanche-Center-390121947722391/
Twitter – @JHAvalanche
http://www.jhavalanche.org/
We are in-between intermountain and continental snowpack, so it’s important to be aware of the dangerous characteristic of those snowpacks. The forecasters will use keywords to explain what’s going on with the snowpack, but it’s your job to find the clues and translate it into something you understand. Learning to do that comes from the avalanche courses. – Iris Lazzareschi, Jackson Hole, WY

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