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Mountain Madness Climber

Avalanche Season Kicks Off With Private Avy Course

I woke up this morn­ing to snow all over the trees and roads around my place near down­town Seat­tle. If it’s snow­ing in Seat­tle, you know what that means for the moun­tains…! I imme­di­ate­ly turned on my com­put­er and went direct­ly to the North­west Avalanche Center’s web­site (www​.nwac​.us) to check on the lat­est weath­er, snow, and avalanche con­di­tions. The avalanche cen­ter had rat­ed the avalanche dan­ger for today in much of the Cas­cades as HIGH: Nat­ur­al Avalanch­es are Like­ly; Human Trig­gered Avalanch­es are Very Like­ly”. Wow, just in time. I had just wrapped up our first avalanche course of the sea­son yes­ter­day. I was joined by sev­er­al folks from Seat­tle based Yukon Trad­ing Com­pa­ny for a pri­vate Lev­el 1 avalanche course. 

Kir­by gets his stride as he prac­tices the run” por­tion (sig­nal search) of avalanche Resuce. Dal­las Glass photo

One of the great parts of a pri­vate avalanche course is we have the flex­i­bil­i­ty to adjust the sched­ule and the top­ics to meet the objec­tives of the stu­dents. We all gath­ered Tues­day after­noon at Yukon’s gor­geous show­room to sit down and dis­cuss some of the fun­da­men­tals of avalanch­es, avalanche ter­rain, and group man­age­ment. While there is a great ben­e­fit to learn­ing in a class­room” envi­ron­ment, I find that it’s the time out­side where the real learn­ing takes place. Like all MM avalanche cours­es, we spent two full days out in the moun­tains. We had select­ed Stevens Pass as the loca­tion for our two tours and it was time to play in the mountains. 

Fast, Effi­cient, and Effec­tive. The group gets into sling­ing some snow dur­ing the strate­gic shov­el­ing drill. Dal­las Glass photo

Our first day began with a short tour to a near­by field site for some com­pan­ion res­cue prac­tice and snow lay­er obser­va­tions. The group dis­cussed how the recent weath­er had cre­at­ed the lay­ers in the snow­pack that we could see right in front of us. Although the cur­rent snow­pack didn’t have any strik­ing weak­ness, we knew an approach­ing storm could change that. Just before lunch we shift­ed our focus to prac­tic­ing com­pan­ion res­cue. It was great to take the time to learn and prac­tice each step of an effec­tive com­pan­ion res­cue. The team did a spec­tac­u­lar job com­mu­ni­cat­ing to each oth­er as they worked. Nor­mal­ly this is where I drone on and on about how great the ski­ing was on the way back to the cars. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, any­one who has been out in the Cas­cades recent­ly knows the ski­ing is less than ideal. 

I may get lost in the city, but I sure know which way to go in the moun­tains. Lance mea­sures the slope aspect with a com­pass. Dal­las Glass photo

Under­stand­ing the lim­i­ta­tions of the cur­rent ski con­di­tions, the group made a wise choice to lim­it the trav­el on their sec­ond tour day and instead focus on obser­va­tion skills, ter­rain iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, and more com­pan­ion res­cue. This is a great idea that I use in my own per­son­al ski­ing. When the ski­ing is mar­gin­al it’s a great day to prac­tice skills and enjoy just being out­side. So, that’s exact­ly what we did. As we trav­eled up the moun­tain we mea­sured slope angles and aspects. Tak­ing the time to mea­sure these slopes on safe days helps us become skilled at iden­ti­fy­ing avalanche ter­rain. As we moved we made numer­ous obser­va­tions that were rel­e­vant to the cur­rent avalanche dan­ger fore­cast. After a great day in the moun­tains, we recon­vened to recap the course and dis­cuss the skills we each had devel­oped. It was a great time explor­ing the moun­tains and avalanche edu­ca­tion together. 

Using the tools we have at hand, Ben search­es for prob­lem lay­ers in the upper snow­pack. Dal­las Glass photo

A spe­cial thanks to Ryan and Yukon Trad­ing Com­pa­ny for set­ting up anoth­er course this sea­son. I hope y’all have a great win­ter play­ing in the mountains.

~ MM Guide Dal­las Glass