We have adapted this story from Kevin, our writer at Mount Bachelor. It’s a great article to get us all thinking about backcountry safety. Details have been changed to fit our location. Thanks Kevin!
Ladies, let’s say you have a boyfriend. You’ve been dating for awhile, and you both love to ride in the snow, maybe dabbling in backcountry travel a little bit. He has plenty of backcountry experience, education, and his own gear. What would you say if your boyfriend said to you, “Hey, if you want to ski with me, you need to go buy your own avalanche equipment and take a class.” Would you feel offended? What if he has loaner gear for you to use? Would you feel put off, or that he is forcing you into something you aren’t ready to invest in? Or would you consider it a comment of necessity, love and respect?
A number of years ago I set up two of my friends, by accident, when they hit it off over lunch. It was a pretty fun, happy accident. We will call them Jackie and Ben. They dated for the next year or two; skiing, paddling, climbing and cycling together. Jackie was new to the idea of skiing out of bounds, and Ben was helping to quickly increase her experience. Sometime in the middle of this relationship, she and I were discussing personal equipment. She had been using Ben’s spare avalanche equipment since they met, and she described something he said to her: “…and one day he just said ‘It’s about time for you to get your own avy gear.’” Jackie laughed, “At first I was a bit offended. Like he didn’t want me using his stuff anymore!” But Jackie noted how she soon realized that it is her responsibility to care for herself, and to be prepared if she is to be joining others in the backcountry. I believe that it was a smart comment for Ben to make. If he was to respect his partner as a backcountry traveler, and she was to respect herself and her backcountry pals, she would have to be credible for her own equipment and experience. No longer would Jackie be able to use his gear because it was cheaper than buying her own, and use his experience as her crutch.
Disclaimer: Please do not take this post as my opinion that women are less educated on avalanche terrain, or less inclined to be (of course it would be interesting to see those stats). Many of you are probably already on top of this! The point here is that it’s often way more fun for a group of gals to get together and discuss and learn without the machismo of the dudes around. You know what I’m talking about; that’s why you have ‘ladies night’.
If you’ve already shopped, you’ll know that backcountry equipment is a very expensive investment. Once you’ve added up $500 for boots, $1,200 for skis and bindings, and $160 for skins. You think ‘Okay, I CAN afford less than two-grand.’ And then someone asks “Have you taken an avy course?” And “You have a beacon, shovel, probe,right?” Crap. You forgot about that. But you can always do that later, can’t you? You’re going just out to Twin Peaks or Munchkins and that’s not far out. There’s a lot of people. Less danger. Closer to the safe, warm, civilized world. Isn’t that right? Don’t fool yourself. This thinking couldn’t be more dangerous. It gets people in trouble every year. Part of your backcountry investment which is frequently overlooked is the avalanche equipment and education that is necessary to make you a competent companion. One thing that can’t be stressed enough, is that as soon as you step foot off the road, you’re in a backcountry environment. Many locations around Alpine Meadows can slide if the conditions are right. Please do not make the mistake of thinking that minimal, limited backcountry activity means you don’t need a class or the right equipment. That’s a (literal) slippery slope that will lead you onto a trip that’s well outside your experience level, compromising the safety of you and your partners.
So start yourself on a path to being a well educated winter backcountry traveler. How? You can participate in a backcountry clinics geared towards women presented by S.A.F.E. A.S. They promote safe backcountry travel and avalanche education, and it’s hosted by ladies. This winter they’re hosting multi-day clinics in Snowbird, Squaw Valley, Crystal Mountain, and Steven’s Pass. These clinics are an incredible deal. You’ll get a morning yoga session, on-mountain classes, lunch, AND you get to shred. The kicker is that you’ll be taught by the biggest names in women’s freeskiing; Elyse Saugstad, Jackie Paaso, Lel Tone, Michelle Parker, Ingrid Backstrom, and Sherry McConkey. Wow. What a lineup! I’ve had the fortune to spend some time with a few of these gals. You can believe me when I say that they are incredible people, and incredible athletes. Plus, as industry pros at the top of their game these women are certainly the most competent people to teach the dangers and techniques for backcountry travel, first hand. The Squaw clinic for December 8th is already sold out but the December 9th clinic is still open.The cost is only $110. You can find more information here: http://highfivesfoundation.org/safe-as-clinics/ and sign up here: http://safeasclinics.wordpress.com/
Two more awesome resources at your fingertips are www.avalanche.org and the Sierra Avalanche Center (SAC). Avalanche.org provides a list of US forecasting centers, as well as accident records (worth diving into) organized chronologically and plenty of reading and resources for your education. SAC is our local nonprofit, promoting avalanche awareness, and forecasting, snowpack and avalanche observations which are submitted by the public.
One last thing to remember about education in backcountry travel, is that it’s not all classrooms and charts. This stuff is FUN! You’ll be getting outside, geeking out on snow crystals, digging, beacon-searching, laughing, and skiing. It is a blast and incredibly interesting. You’ll also probably make some awesome new ski-girlfriends. So please get educated! These resources are a great springboard for your competence and backcountry smarts. Plus your boyfriend will think that it’s hot when you can actually use all that stuff in your brand new avy pack.
-Kevin, UnofficialMountBachelor.com & Mark, UnofficialAlpine.com