So You Think You Can Avoid Avalanches


This ski season was a deadly one for avalanches in North America. With the shallow snowpack of much of the West and the deep snowpack of the PNW and Alaska, conditions were all too ripe. Included in anybody’s backcountry arsenal should be good practices and plenty of avalanche awareness. “Safe” route finding in avalanche terrain isn’t easy. Many factors come into play–including weather, snowpack, and human factors. Here’s the thing about avalanches: they are avoidable. Well, obviously. If you don’t ski in the backcountry, chances are pretty good you won’t run into an avalanche.

But the backcountry holds some sweet rewards for those that can safely navigate it. All the latest ski industry trends point toward releasable heels and slackcountry gear that allows skiers and riders to ski inbounds or backcountry or a combination of the two on any given day. In other words, the Holy Grail of your own private skiing Idaho has never been closer. The difference between playing at a ski area and playing in the backcountry is more than the light fluffiness of the snow. In addition to explosive control at ski areas, the snow is also work hardened, compacted day after day by skiers and snowboarders breaking up the slabs and reducing avalanche hazard. While this might be one reason skiers are heading for the off-piste, it keeps the pistes dummy-proof.

Can you find the safe route from the green point to the red point? Click on the photo to get started.

In the backcountry, however, you are on your own. Backcountry travelers must know not only the daily conditions, but preferably track the last few weeks of weather to truly understand the snowpack. They should also dig pits and follow safe route finding techniques. Even experienced backcountry users can be surprised by avalanches. So the more you know, the better off you will be.

The Canadian Avalanche Center wants to test you on your route finding. They offer an online avalanche course meant to hone backcountry user’s skills. Here is one of the route finding exercises in which you can track your route from point A to point B. When you veer into dangerous territory, the tutorial alerts you and you must start over again.

This is worth your time. Just click on the photo to start your test.

9 responses »

  1. I never knew ANYTHING about avalanche safety until we took a short (free!) course at our local Forest Service station with some friends of ours. (Actually, we were the only four who showed up so it was basically a private class.) I learned enough to realize that some of the things we’d done last winter were a little sketchy and enough to know we have a lot more to learn…

    • It’s true that the more you learn about the snowpack the less you seem to know. Humility in the backcountry is just as important as a transceiver, in my opinion.

  2. This is really cool. I am going to pass this along! The more avy awareness the better. I still think and AVY I (or any avalanche class) is priceless. Particularly the one I took where they showed you actual avalanches burying people. Also, practice with a beacon is important. What good are the tools, if you don’t know how to use them efficiently.

    But this link is really awesome and I love the emphasis on route finding.

  3. Big up to Trekchick for posting your BLOG to EpicSki. I’m planning to do an av safety course through MEC in Toronto this fall and may do some proper training Section8 on Mt Washington next season.
    I had a – let’s say “tap on the shoulder” – at Whistler that emphasized the importance of preparation even in sidecountry.

  4. Pingback: Ski Chalet Holidays Les Deux Alpes Reviews The Skiing Blog | How To Ski

  5. Pingback: Last Weekend to Ski at Crystal (Plus a Bonus) « Kim Kircher

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