En Lew of the recent airbag craze we tend to forget while these airbags are devised to save lives they are only a last line of defense between snow-goers having the day of their lives and being buried alive or worse dead. For the Whistler snowboarder who deployed his electronic airbag pack, as an avalanche swept him downhill, life very well could have been saved by this devise. Truth is, most of the time it takes a multitude of poor compounding decisions for you to end up in these situations and education is the best way to know before you leave the parking lot if you should make your way out of bounds or just stick to the resort for the day.
This past week GLCR by 686 and 365 Boarding, lead by former Pro Patroller and avalanche expert Jeff Hambelton, offered an intensive avalanche course into Mount Baker’s esteemed backcountry.
The course included an in-depth classroom session, multiple burial situations, as well as a touring portion into backcountry situations to dig pits, study snowpack as well as procedures to identify safe riding terrain. The class of students included industry team managers, pro snowboarders and area locals such as Dave Marx (Team Manager GNU Snowboards), Tanner McCarty (Marketing Manager Ride Snowboards), Pat McCarthy (Team Manager 686), Forest Bailey (Pro Snowboarder), Gus Warbington (Amateur Snowboarder), Ryan Tucker (Local Rider), Nick Saupe (Local Rider), Heather Hakes (Colorado Local) and Kevin Shuler (Colorado Local).
“I have been riding at Mt Baker Ski Area now for 18 seasons” said Pat McCarthy, Mount Baker Local, “During my time here I have been in at least five avalanches of different size and structure. The more you practice and get out there with the groups you ride with, the quicker you will be able to save someone’s life. I had an amazing time working with Jeff Hambelton and his crew during the GLCR by 686 X 365 Boarding Avalanche Awareness Weekend. Jeff and crew were really good at explaining the foundations of avalanche safety and gave us the opportunity to go out and practice multiple burial situations, dig pits and track snowpack data. Take some time each season to brush up on your avalanche skills, you may save your friends life or enable someone to save your own. Knowledge is the key, go and get it.”
While Avalanches make plenty of news, like recently in Whistler, no news is good news. For most stories of injury or death that we stumble upon on the Internet, there are plenty of poor judgment calls that go along with it. “One common theme in avalanche accidents is being in the wrong place, at the wrong time.” Jeff Hambelton addressed during our tour, “There are a variety of reasons, from lack of awareness to consciously riding a slope, knowing it has risk. Spending time taking avalanche courses is one of the best ways to become aware of the risk, and gain understanding of avalanche terrain and conditions. It's important to remember though, even experts get surprised now and again in the mountains. We make better decisions about risk when we discuss the problems observed and create a plan for operating around them. Learn the basics before you go out in the backcountry, and work with the people in your groups to keep learning as you gain experience.”
Remember, preparedness can start before you even get out of the sheets in the morning. There are plenty of easily accessible resources online that will clue you in on the snowpack and tip you off if snow conditions are prone to instability. When you do venture out never leave without, at the very least, a fully charged beacon, probe and shovel. Don’t become a statistic.
If you too would like be educated visit the webpage that corresponds with your area for recent avalanche information and Avalanche Awareness class calendars.
-Erik Hoffman Staff Photographer / Graphic Designer @erikhoffmanphoto