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Backcountry 101, Part 2: Avalanche Training

Backcountry 101, Part 2: Avalanche Training

Second part of our Backcountry 101 serie: Avalanche Training and awareness. Avalanche danger is one of those things that scare people off backcountry skiing or snowboarding the most. While it's impossible to eliminate completely the risk of avalanches, it is certainly possible to mitigate and reduce risks to acceptable levels to most skiers.

There are tons of resources out there to stay up to date on current avalanche conditions. From Avalanche Canada, to the Canada Parks Avalanche website and Kananaskis Country's forecast, everything is right at your fingertips when it's about current avalanche conditions. If you want to increase your knowledge, spend a few minutes a day reading the reports of the areas where you might ski come the weekend. Knowing past events is just as important as knowing current conditions. 

Avalanche forecasts all share the same format in Canada (and in most of the USA).The first line is usually an observation from the forecasting team, it’s important to consider their advice. Here, they’re recommending to be very careful with avalanche terrain. This is like your doctor telling you to quit smoking; ultimately it’s your decision but it’s pretty good advice. The danger ratings are next, fairly self explanatory. Considerable is the rating for the Rockies most of the time as there is a high degree of variability in our snowpack and the forecasting areas are huge. Thus, don’t take these ratings as gospel. They could be better or worse at your riding area and it’s entirely on you to make the hard decisions.

That all sounds like a lot of work. It is at first, but it will become much easier as you get more familiar with the format and when you can start comparing what you see on the forecasts and the actual conditions out there. A course like Avalanche Safety Training (AST-1) will teach you how to read forecasts and much more, from navigation and terrain management skills to avalanche rescue. Every local guiding company has AST courses during the Winter, as do most ACC sections and certain outdoor groups. Signing up for one of those courses is usually the first step to get into backcountry skiing/snowboarding/snowshoeing safely. 

I personally like to read avalanche education books to remember important notions. I really like "Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain" by Bruce Tremper and I would recommend as a great read to increase your knowledge or to be one step ahead when you take an AST-1 course. 

 

written in collaboration with Kieran Crimeen

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