I smile as the winter sun warms my cheeks and the crisp winter breeze grazes across my face. As I make my way up a snowy ridge, my skis feel solid under my feet. However, the landscape tells me something different.
I survey the story written in the snow. As I analyze the hillside, I remember what I learned in my AIARE 1 class with the Mountain Guides of Colorado about terrain management. Always be looking for potential avalanche hazards that you can’t identify on a topo map.
AIARE, or the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education, puts out an educational curriculum aimed at understanding avalanche hazards and techniques to plan and execute a trip into the backcountry. Upon completing the three-day course with The Mountain Guides Colorado, I not only learned about snow science, but I also got hands-on experience with rescue techniques, avalanche terrain management, and group decision making.
Back on the mountain, I realize that the conditions are shaping up differently than I had originally thought. The line we aim to ski looks loaded with wind-drifted snow.
My partner catches up with me and we discuss our situation.
“We should change lines.” I announce, “That face looks wind loaded.”
“If we ski down the ridge we just came up and avoid the wind-loaded face, we should be fine,” chirps Jenny.
“Sounds good,” I reply.
It’s easy to get caught up in the original plan, but we know that no sweet powder is worth our lives.
I ski first. The powdery snow puffs around my skis and I savor each turn. I skid to a stop at a cluster of trees, playfully spraying the pines. Once I signal to Jenny that I have eyes on her, she follows.
After a few turns, I hear a large crack and a whoompf. In a flash I see the face we were originally supposed to ski comes alive with movement as a carpet of white barrels down the hill next to us. Snow quickly fills the air and I am blinded by tiny crystals of white.
Once the snow stops moving I survey the scene, immediately calling upon the teachings of the AMGA-Certified instructors at The Mountain Guides Colorado. “Jenny, are you okay?” I shout.
“Yeah, I’m good!” Exclaims Jenny.
I just barely spot her through the settling snow, a few turns shy of the trees. Had she continued to ski through the snow cloud, she could have crashed into me and sent us flying into the avalanche.
We collect ourselves and begin the ski back out to the car. Avalanches occur naturally all the time. No one ever anticipates being caught in a slide, but I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t taken an avalanche course. As we set our skis in the back of the car and drive away, I thank The Mountain Guides Colorado for giving me the knowledge I needed to be alive that evening.
Don’t let yourself become a statistic this season. Stay safe and get educated. For detailed information about how to get an AIARE education and make sound decisions in the backcountry this year, check out the course offerings with The Mountain Guides Colorado.