This year, with resorts implementing a reservation system and the possibility of resort closures due to COVID-19, soon-to-be-shuttered Powder magazine predicted a boom in backcountry gear purchases.
Ski patrollers and guides alike warned about the increase in clueless, new backcountry travelers could obliviously skin, boot, and turn into avalanche danger and cause a sudden and possibly deadly increase in human-triggered avalanches.
You might be perusing splitboards and trying to decide which shape, size, and make, and then trying to figure out bindings, skins and poles.
But before you click add to cart and ship hundreds of dollars worth of product to your house, take a pause. What kind of avalanche education have you received in the past three years? Do you know how to use your backcountry equipment (beacon, probe, shovel)? In the following post, we’ll go over the first-things-first practices for getting into the backcountry. Read on to learn more.
Watch the Know Before You Go Series
Utah Avalanche Center put together a one-hour seminar to introduce new backcountry users to avalanche awareness. It’s broken down into a 15-minute and 25-min video.
Typically “Know Before You Go,” or KBYG, is offered a few times a year, especially during the early season. However, with COVID, your easiest bet may be to pay the modest donation, download the material, and watch it with your friends and family.
There’s also a free online learning program, which works as a refresher or as a precursor getting your Level 1 certification.
Take Your Avalanche Level 1
Level 1 courses are an investment in your safety and your pleasure. While the $350-$500 price range can be a little stiff, they are still cheaper than splitboards. This three-day course is a mandatory move for anyone booting, skinning, snowshoeing, or snowmobiling in the backcountry.
You’ll learn to identify avalanche terrain, develop a plan for navigating it, and learn how to use a beach, shovel, probe. Most importantly, you’ll learn techniques for rescuing your backcountry partner.
And Definitely Take an Avalanche Rescue Course
This is a single-day course that teaches you how to quickly and effectively extricate someone from avalanche debris. While it’s not ideal to start with this course, it’s arguably the single most important day of avalanche training you’ll ever get. It’s about $100 and worth every penny.
Buy Your Own Beacon, Shovel, Probe, and Pack. Then Practice.
You want to learn how to search, probe, and dig using equipment that you’ll use all season (and beyond). If you’ve invested in your avalanche education, then the next step is to practice those skills in a controlled setting.
Helpful Backcountry Access Videos:
Every second counts during an extrication. You do not want to be pulling out your probe for the first time while your snowboarding partner is under snow. Set aside time to practice a beacon search, probing, and extrication at a beacon park (Canyons has one past the Red Pine Gondola), at the resort, or easily accessible sidecountry (think just past the gate at Grizzly Gulch).
Keep your probe and shovel in the same place every time you use your pack. Again, this minimizes time during an emergency.
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