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RMOC – Importance of Avalanche Education

Dillon Geiger 

Are you getting nervous about getting priced out of pow at your local resort?  Thinking that earning your turns may be the better option for you?  Well venturing into the untouched snow and pristine beauty of the backcountry environment certainly provides skiers and snowboarders with loads of fresh turns without paying for a lift ticket. However, the snow-covered mountains can be a place of extreme danger and unpredictability. 

In the wintertime, snow avalanches are the biggest hazard to backcountry recreationists due to the threat of being buried alive or being violently thrown down a mountainside. Therefore, pursuing an avalanche safety course could be the difference between experiencing the absolute fun of deep fresh turns, or the experience of complete catastrophe and life-ending trauma.

Avalanches are a critical and natural component of every mountain environment and they have a lot of benefits such as the clear-cutting of fire breaks in forested terrain, the downhill transportation of water resources, and the consolidation of snow for seasonal runoff that feeds streams and rivers through the warmer seasons. When considering the environmental benefits of avalanches, it is easy to see how they benefit the health of the mountain environment and the local communities. However, aside from the environmental benefits, avalanches are very hazardous to people and can be extremely deadly.

In recent decades, advancements in avalanche forecasting and hazard mitigation across the country have helped decrease the damage done by avalanches on mountain infrastructure such as ski resorts and highway corridors. However, avalanche accidents and fatalities have significantly increased with people who venture outside the ski boundary and into the backcountry environment. Due to the growing popularity of backcountry sports and the physics behind avalanche formation and triggers, more skiers and snowboarders are dying in avalanches than any other user group.

Backcountry touring has become very popular due to the impeccable snow, the raw nature, and the intense experiences, but the reason why skiers and snowboarders get caught in avalanches is that the slope that is generally the best for good turns is at the perfect angle for weakly bonded snow layers to avalanche or slide down the mountain. Additionally, the majority of avalanches require a trigger point or any type of load to release, like a skier ripping a fresh turn.

With growing popularity and imminent danger, backcountry skiers and snowboarders must get the right gear to safely tour the mountains and take an educational course on avalanche hazards and rescue practices. Although skiing and snowboarding place users directly in avalanche terrain due to sport involvement and slope necessity, there is still a possibility of triggering an avalanche any time someone ventures into the backcountry.

If you are a winter backcountry recreationist including skiers, snowboarders, ice climbers, snowmobilers, or snow-shoers, it is paramount that you consider taking avalanche rescue equipment with you into the backcountry. These pieces of gear include an avalanche beacon or transceiver, a snow shovel, and a probe. However, these pieces of gear are useless without the right education and practice. 

The Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center (RMOC) has many courses and opportunities for those looking to dive into backcountry sports to gain the necessary avalanche education and rescue practice. These include Intro and AIARE Prep, AIARE Rec 1, AIARE Rec 2, and an AIARE Rescue Course. If you are interested in learning more about our avalanche education course offerings click this link

But wait, since the winter season is almost over, what is the importance of taking a course now? Taking a course in the middle of the season is the perfect time to gain the necessary skills when there is enough snow to effectively practice rescue scenarios and to begin introducing you to the nuances of snow stratigraphy for next season. Lastly, If you are not interested in rescue practice and avalanche educational courses but still want an experienced guide to take you out then click this link to learn more about our guided winter trips.

The raw snow-covered mountains do not have to be an intimidating place.  With proper training you can have confidence in your ability to find safe terrain and to perform a rescue.  Check out avalanche education from your friends at RMOC.

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