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Learn to Tour the Colorado Backcountry

Ski touring in the Colorado Rockies, is consistently one of the most rewarding activities on earth.  It is hard work, it’s adventurous, it builds camaraderie, and it’s intellectually challenging.  However, there is real danger out there!  The Colorado snowpack has two reputations; one is a reputation of stoic beauty and epic powder, the other is of frequent, dangerous, often fatal avalanches.  In my opinion, both reputations are accurate.   As a skier and snowboarder who had the pleasure of growing up in this wild environment, I fully embrace the adventure, I accept the danger and I do everything possible to stay involved and educated regarding evolving avalanche problems, technologies, and safety practices.  This is so that when the conditions are good, I am ready to get out there and have an epic day with friends, and when they are not, we can make the most appropriate decisions.  Most importantly, I want to feel confident that I can mitigate exposure to avalanche terrain, focus on making good decisions, and if something should go wrong, I want to feel prepared to react methodically and effectively.

The Continental Snowpack that blankets the CO Rockies every year is the most avalanche prone set up in the world.  The foundational layer of this snowpack almost always accumulates in the Fall, often in October, and is followed by weeks and sometimes months of dry cold weather and sunshine, leaving the base layer heavily faceted and unconsolidated.  As winter rolls in, every storm drops new layers of snow on top of this unstable base leaving CO forecasters, avalanche professionals, and athletes repeating the phrase; persistent weak layer throughout most of the season.  While the problem layer is not always the base layer, there is always the potential that if there is a failure on a layer above, and an avalanche occurs that it can step down to the unconsolidated base layer and send the entire years snowpack rumbling down the mountain in a terrifying and unstoppable avalanche.  But this does not stop the CO touring community from staying informed, being observant, practicing skills, and getting after it!

Planning, reading, field testing, attending classes, practicing skills, and scouting are the cornerstone of this type of adventure and a big reason why I became a guide and an instructor at Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center (RMOC) in Buena Vista, CO.  We offer classes and guided trips to suit all skill levels and interests, from AIARE certification courses, to ski-mountaineering, to basic backcountry skills, whatever your backcountry interests are, we have you covered.  And because we focus on progression, we offer the Adventure Pass that gives students access to 10 courses throughout the year and is good for any of the outdoor disciplines we teach.  For the purposes of this article though, the Adventure Pass is an affordable way to dedicate yourself to progressing your backcountry touring skills this winter through a variety of our many backcountry courses and adventures.  Check them out here, and use the code RMAP 10 at checkout for a 10% discount on an RMOC Adventure Pass (offer expires 12/31/2023).

Whether your objective is getting exercise in low angle terrain or skiing Mt. Shavano, there is prep work to do, tools to utilize, and decisions to be made. RMOC is here to connect you with the resources you need to plan and strategize your next trip.  At RMOC no matter the objective for the day, we start with a look at the snowpack, weather and determine the available terrain based on these observations.  Our mission is to help you progress to the next level, whether you are just starting out, or just starting to step out, there are courses and trips to help you intelligently achieve your next goals.  In all of our courses, we will connect you with tools, apps, and considerations to make before, during and after your day of touring.  We are stoked to offer Weston gear rentals and demos as part of your course or trip.  Bring your own boots though!  Also included in any RMOC backcountry outing is rescue gear and pack.  Learning the functionality of rescue gear is critical to being a reliable backcountry partner.  While practicing rescue is not always easy, it is invaluable to stay sharp on your rescue skills and it is something we value and practice regularly at RMOC.

Our permits span three epic zones; Monarch Pass, Independence Pass, and Fremont Pass which opens up a huge variety of terrain options.  In these zones we have favorite routes, ideal pit digging opportunities, big lines, fast glades, incredible powder, epic views, and plenty of opportunities to identify avalanche dangers and practice rescue skills.  If you are interested in exploring these zones with a guided trip, progressing your skills with our backcountry courses, or working towards your AIARE certifications, join us this winter at RMOC, your winter HQ!

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