I’ve been backcountry skiing in Alaska for over a decade now, but the timing was never right to take a level 1 avalanche course. I took a couple of day-long awareness courses over the years, did beacon drills and was fortunate to link up with friends who knew far more than me. But I was well aware that my personal continued education was critical to my safety in the backcountry. Well, last weekend that finally changed thanks to Alaska Heliskiing’s lead forecaster, Mark Kelly, who offered a local Level 1 avalanche course in Haines, Alaska through AIARE.
Here are 5 reasons why the timing is always right to take an avalanche safety course:
1. Expand your backcountry skiing partner call-sheet. You’ll undoubtedly meet new folks with the same passion for the mountains as you during your avalanche course. This is a great opportunity to plan future adventures with new people. Learn and grow your avalanche safety skills together!
2. Get 2 days of backcountry skiing in! While a portion of an avalanche course is conducted in the classroom, over half of the session is spent in the mountains. Avalanche training is the perfect excuse for a couple of days in the hills and away from the office for us desk jockeys.
3. Learn fun words like firnspiegel & sintering. Avalanche professionals speak their own language. Learning their language not only helps you provide more educated and informative observations, but it also gives you a better understanding of what forecasters are talking about in avalanche bulletins and incident reports.
4. Do beacon drills. Again and again. If you’ve never taken an avalanche course and you think you know how to do a beacon search, you don’t. This is a skill that requires practice and detailed instruction to get it right. Beacon searches should be second nature for the sake of your skiing companions.
5. Be an asset to your friends and travel companions. For years I relied on more knowledgeable skiing buddies in the backcountry for decision-making. While there is a certain ease of mind that goes along with letting your friends dictate your terrain selection, I owed it to myself and my ski partners to get educated and start being a part of the conversation.
Here are some helpful links to avalanche training organizations or contact your local avalanche information center for a course near you!
American Avalanche Association