Preparing for Your Best Backcountry Skiing Season Ever. Part 2: Avalanche Skills TrainingPreparing for your best backcountry skiing season ever means preparing to travel in avalanche terrain.
More than three decades have passed since I encountered an avalanche for the first time and although I emerged unharmed from that experience, I've thought about snow and avalanches on the majority of my days since then. I suspect that — like me — most backcountry skiers spend significant amounts of time each winter thinking about avalanches. However, most people wait until the snow falls before they begin to think about travelling in avalanche terrain. This is reasonable — after all, snow is the key ingredient in snow avalanches. However, preparing for your best backcountry skiing season ever means preparing now to travel in avalanche terrain this winter.
Digging into the faceted snowpack of the Tien Shan Mountains, Kyrgyzstan. (Josh Laskin Photo)
A good place to start preparing for travelling in avalanche terrain is by enrolling in an avalanche skills training course. Courses in Canada are designed by Avalanche Canada to suit the needs of recreationists and delivered by independent third-party providers, who are licensed by Avalanche Canada. A schedule of courses for the 2023-2024 season is available online here.
For courses in the United States, go here to view a list of courses and course providers near you. Additionally, several organizations have developed avalanche education curricula that are delivered online. Avalanche Canada developed the immersive case study Rescue at Cherry Bowl as well as an online avalanche tutorial AvySavvy. For a more in-depth curriculum, with video lessons Mountain Sense offers A Comprehensive Guide to Avalanche Safety, created by IFMGA Mountain Guide Mark Smiley.
For those of you looking for a good book on the topic, Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain by Bruce Tremper is considered essential reading and is now in the third edition.
Regional Snow and Avalanche Workshops are held in mountain communities throughout the United States every year from early October to early December. These events are sponsored in part by the American Avalanche Association and regional avalanche forecasting centres. They are a great opportunity to connect in person with the backcountry community and learn from snow-science experts.
What’s on your checklist of annual preparation for travelling in avalanche terrain? Drop a note in the comments and let us know.
Jerry Isaak is an Associate Teaching Professor and the program lead for ski touring in the Adventure Studies Department at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, British Columbia. He is an AMGA certified Ski Guide and has guided backcountry ski adventures in Iceland, Kyrgyzstan, Japan, and throughout the United States and western Canada.