Mt. Baker in all her glory! Jeremy Allyn photo
As I write this blog post a major winter storm is at our doorstep here in the Cascade Range of Washington State — thunder and lightening this morning, urban flooding on Seattle’s streets, and 3 feet of new snow forecasted for the next 48 hrs. I’m contemplating which day to skip work to go ski touring…tomorrow? Friday? I’m tracking the weather radar, the freezing levels, precipitation rates, scouring ski reports on the internet (some dubious, some valuable), thinking about what partners I want to go out with? Where to go? How to go? What terrain to completely avoid? How are those wind slabs from Saturday going to react now they have a new snow load on top of them? Where’s the good skiing? Hmmm…maybe I should wait. No…I really want to ski! The trail breaking is going to be brutal. On and on and on…
Ski Touring in the Central Cascades. J. Allyn photo
It’s hard to be a winter recreationist in this area. Our weather is incredibly finicky, often extreme, and we get a huge amount of snow. No matter what activity you chose – snowshoeing, ice climbing, ski mountaineering, mellow ski touring, even driving the mountain passes – all winter backcountry travel exposes oneself to avalanche risk at some point or another. What is risk? Exposure time vis-à-vis objective hazard? What is your personal risk acceptance level and does it match up with your partner? Can you carry out a companion rescue if someone in your party is caught in an avalanche? These are important questions if you travel in the mountains – especially in winter.
So, as we merge into the holiday season, and winter knocks heavily at our door, I urge you and yours to embrace these questions and continue to hone your decision making in whatever activity you choose. One excellent way to gain a solid foundation of skills and gain a greater proficiency in your decision making is to take an avalanche course or hire a professional ski guide.
Crispin Prahl taking off the climbing skins. J. Allyn photo
Mountain Madness offers a variety of course options and we are excited to join you this winter! Our avalanche courses are small and our instructors are among the best in the business. Over the years I’ve realized that the best avalanche instructors are the ones with the most diverse snow experience – ski patrol, mountain guiding, avalanche course instructing, forecasting. One can have a Ph.D in snow science but never felt moving snow under their skis. One can be a fully-certified mountain guide but lack good teaching skills. I firmly believe that the “jack-of-all-trades” snow person makes the best avalanche instructor. Of course, you need to love snow, love teaching, and love the overall experience of sharing travel in the mountains. All of us at Mountain Madness definitely do! We hope to see you out there!
Monika Johnson in winter wonderland. J. Allyn photo
North America Program Director