It’s amazing how much people don’t know about the dangers that can occur in the backcountry (off-trail) when there are snow conditions. Many people are not aware of these conditions because at resorts, they trigger avalanches before the lifts open, in order to ensure safety, but when mountaineering it’s important to know the dangers that exist.
I, Phillip, took the SMI Avalanche School Level 1 course in Bishop, CA over the weekend of April 7th and was amazed about how much I didn’t know. I was also surprised at how lucky I’ve been, because I have certainly been in avalanche condition environments and didn’t know the signs before.
I learned things like how wind direction, temperature, and a lot of other factors contribute to avalanche conditions. For example, there is a metamorphosis that occurs between the snow layers. If a layer of snow bonds well to the previous layer, the snow is safe. However, if it is a weak layer – a slab avalanche can occur. In the class we not only understood the course material, but did case studies, and went out into the field to observe avalanche terrain. We got our hands dirty with building snow pits, learning about compression tests, and other factors to evaluate safe conditions. The most important information I personally learned, was how to find buried people using a transceiver (avalanche beacon) and recover them quickly! Not only was the class informational it was actually fun. This class was hands down, one of the best classes I’ve taken, and highly recommend it for anyone who wants to explore the backcountry.
Kurt and his guides at SMI brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to this class. This course follows the American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) curriculum and meet requirements for most mountain guides, ski patrollers, club trip leaders, and other outdoor professionals. This is an ideal first course for those new to travel in avalanche terrain and a great review or upgrade for anyone who has some experience or prior training but feels they need a skills “tune-up.” The Level 1 is designed as a stand-alone course for back-country travelers; it also serves and an introduction to avalanches and is a lead in to the AIARE Level 2 Course for those who wish to progress.
Here at the 52 Hike Challenge, we want you to be educated and prepared. We host classes like this with SMI and plan to offer more in the future. If you are interested in signing up to be notified when there is another Snow Avalanche Course, or a Snow Travel Course which teaches you how to use an ice axe, crampons, rope and more, make sure to sign up for our email list below.