www.sawtoothguides.com) up in Stanley. Dylan and I had previously taken a companion rescue course through SMG and wanted to expand our understanding of avalanche conditions. Since we have dragged Tam into this sport, we figured she had better grasp these concepts as well. The 3 day course was titled Decision Making in Avalanche Terrain.
We had met Sara and Chris Lundy of SMG at the Backcountry Film Festival back in December where I had "won" a training course in a silent auction. They are part owners of SMG and seemed like great people, so we were very eager to get out and learn from them in the back country
It was nice to be out of the month long inversion we had been having in Boise, and seeing the sun in Stanley at 8AM was a good thing. After meeting the other seven class members, we spent the first morning learning about avalanche fundamentals and the process of decision making while traveling in the back country. After lunch, we headed out to Banner Summit for an afternoon of companion rescue training. The basics of companion rescue are that it will take too much time to leave and find help, so in the very unlikely event that you are caught in an avalanche, your rescue will be made by your companion(s).
|The group preparing for companion rescue training|
|Chris and Sara showing us how it's done.|
Saturday morning came much too quickly, but the sun was out! After a morning spent further disecting the avalanche forecast and leaning about using our AIARE field book, we were off to Galena Summit to make observations of avalanche terrain and to perform some snow pit tests.
Here we split up into two groups of five, Sara's "A" Team, of which Tam and I were part of and Chris's "B" team which included Dylan. We put our skis on and immediately started skinning up the hill. Periodically Sara would stop to teach us how to dig and evaluate a hand pit dug in the snow, point out possible avalanche terrain and talk about snow conditions. During this portion of the day we recorded our observations into our field book for further reference.
Around lunch time we stopped on a NE facing slope to dig individual snow pits and evaluate the snow layers.
|Tam deciding on where to cut into the snow|
|Yours truly, posing with my probe|
|Sara expanding on the the virtues of analyzing the snow conditions|
|Jessica finishing off her Rutschblock test|
Sunday morning again came quickly. The big differences this morning were that we were going to put all we learned into planning and executing a backcountry ski trip and it was snowing! During our morning discussion on the avalanche forecast, Chris and Sara informed us that Banner Summit had received a little over 8" of new snow and this would be our destination.
We spent the better part of an hour in our groups of five reviewing maps and Google Earth images of Copper Mountain to plan our ascent and descent routes. Here it became apparent how difficult it is to make decisions in a group that doesn't know one another well. But, after going round and round, we all came to a consensus on preferred lines and others that were optional, then headed out into the field.
|Shedding some layers|
We climbed for an hour and a half before reaching the Lunch Counter where we stopped for, well, a lunch break. Here we reviewed our trip plan, dug and analyzed some hand pits and tried to make a decision on which line to make our descent. The sun was out, there was no wind, and the 8" of light fresh untracked powder were making the decision difficult. At this point it became apparent to me how easy and foolish it could be in deviating from an original plan. The options seemed almost unlimited and the snow looked so good!
|Group discussing options|
|Tam determining slope angle|
But after some discussion, we made a choice and stuck to it. We skinned up an additional couple of hundred feet before we stripped the skins and headed down for some silky smooth turns.
|Alex making some turns|
|Jessica showing good form|
|Chris gliding through the trees|
|Tamara getting some POW!|
|Chris pointing out our descent options|
I'd like to thank, as well as recommend, Chris and Sara at Sawtooth Mountain Guides for putting on an excellent class and showing us what we need to know to make good decisions in the backcountry.
It was also great to meet like minded people - Alex, Adam, Jessica, Bill, Emily, Inka, and Leslie.