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Powder skiing with Mountain Madness

If it can ride, it can slide

Ear­ly sea­son snow com­ing soon- get your avalanche aware­ness game start­ed now before head­ing out on a back­coun­try tour or on a snow cat

With win­ter here in the Cas­cades and across the north­ern lat­i­tudes there are things to do besides just dream of pow. Exer­cise. And noth­ing wrong with wax­ing up your boards. But, equal­ly impor­tant is get­ting your­self men­tal­ly ready to con­front the haz­ards win­ter also brings.

There are lots of resources for get­ting your­self edu­cat­ed on the dan­gers of avalanch­es and how to man­age the risks, includ­ing some of our cours­es list­ed below. But, one of the best for North­west skiers and snow­board­ers is the North­west Avalanche Cen­ter. They’re gear­ing up for the sea­son and below you’ll find some great resource links and some things to think about before the snow­pack gets big. 

Powder backcountry skiing with Mountain Madness
Mount Rainier backcountry skiing and avalanche education courses with Mountain Madness
North Cascade Ski Touring cat skiing

Writ­ten by Dal­las Glass/​Deputy Director

Ear­ly Sea­son Avalanche State­ment from 2021

When deal­ing with ear­ly-sea­son avalanche haz­ards the bot­tom-line is sim­ple: If there’s enough snow to ride, there’s enough snow to slide. Whether you’re out in the moun­tains hik­ing, hunt­ing, ski­ing, climb­ing, snow­board­ing, or rid­ing, approach steep smooth snow-cov­ered slopes with cau­tion and bring your avalanche res­cue gear. Don’t let the date on the cal­en­dar fool you when you encounter win­ter-like con­di­tions; ear­ly sea­son avalanche fatal­i­ties have occurred. 

You are most like­ly to encounter ear­ly sea­son avalanche haz­ards in high­er ele­va­tion ter­rain, on per­ma­nent snow­fields, and in wind-loaded pock­ets. This can pose a dilem­ma since these are fre­quent­ly the same loca­tions where ear­ly-sea­son recre­ation­al oppor­tu­ni­ties exist. Pay atten­tion to how much snow is on the ground and where the wind may pile the snow deep­er. This can help you rec­og­nize when you tran­si­tion into areas of deep­er snow. Lim­it­ed infor­ma­tion this time of year can make assess­ing avalanche haz­ard more dif­fi­cult. When you find a steep smooth snowy slope assume it could avalanche, take time to make obser­va­tions, and con­sid­er low­er angle ter­rain. Ear­ly sea­son con­di­tions har­bor numer­ous obsta­cles and can make even small avalanch­es dead­ly by car­ry­ing you through rocks, into trees, or over cliffs. 

If you’re out in the moun­tains let us know what you find. You can share infor­ma­tion with your avalanche com­mu­ni­ty by sub­mit­ting an observation.

NWAC is active­ly prepar­ing for win­ter. Avalanche and moun­tain weath­er fore­casts typ­i­cal­ly begin in mid to late Novem­ber as the win­ter snow­pack starts to build. In the mean­time, take a moment to check over your gear, refresh on your snow and avalanche train­ing, and get excit­ed about the win­ter to come.

NWAC Staff

Course on Avalanche education training with Mountain Madness
Field work for level one avalanche course
Cascades backcountry ski touring and avalanche training

Thanks to NWAC for this great primer for the upcom­ing win­ter. If you’re inspired to get some more train­ing for your win­ter adven­tures, below are some links to get your plan­ning start­ed with Moun­tain Madness.

Avalanche Edu­ca­tion Cours­es (all fol­low the Avalanche Insti­tute of Research and Edu­ca­tion guidelines):

Res­cue Course – one day

Lev­el One – 24 hours of course work, includ­ing two evening lec­tures and two field days

Lev­el Two – pro­fes­sion­al lev­el certification

Back­coun­try ski­ing and snow­board­ing courses:

Back­coun­try Ski­ing Fun­da­men­tals Course — gets the basics cov­ered and then some; sched­uled trips avail­able or cus­tom courses

Split­board Back­coun­try Basics — for first-time back­coun­try split­board­ers, or those with some expe­ri­ence; lots of top­ics cov­ered for both

Guid­ed Trips:

Alpine Lakes High Camp — one of the ulti­mate back­coun­try get­aways in the Cascades

Cas­cades Back­coun­try Ski Tours — choose your route, or let the guides find the secret stash­es of pow for you