When you first meet Scott House, you’d assume that the gregarious local has lived in the West his whole life. His passion for recreating in the mountains is unparalleled and he knows the ins and outs of Park City’s over 450 miles of bike trails like the back of his hand.
In addition to being an expert mountain biker who was instrumental in getting Park City named the International Mountain Bike Association’s (IMBA) first Gold Level Ride Center, Scott also has an affinity for backcountry skiing that led him to begin his avalanche education in college. In southern Michigan, no less.
So how did this Midwesterner end up becoming one of the top avalanche educators in Utah?
Avalanche Safety & Education Expert
As soon as Scott moved to Park City 11 years ago, he promptly took the course to become an AIARE (American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education)-certified instructor. Even traveling to Stephens Pass, Washington, for his instructor training because it was the closest class to Utah.
Scott then became a mountain bike and backcountry guide for White Pine Touring (WPT), Jans’ guiding service, in addition to serving as an avalanche instructor. It was a natural progression when Scott was named Avalanche Education Director for WPT.
Responsible for administering five AIARE 1 courses, an AIARE 2 course, and an Avalanche Refresher Course each season, Scott also lends a hand instructing during the classroom portion of the course along with on-snow instruction for just about every course. His tenacity and work ethic is beyond impressive and he is a natural teacher and a gifted speaker in front of groups. “Teaching in the classroom helps me teach in the field,” reflects Scott. “By working with everyone in the classroom I can see what I need to cover in the field, and that makes the courses even better.”
His hard work as an avalanche educator in the West has earned him some stripes back in his home state of Michigan. Mt. Bohemia, located in the Upper Peninsula, is the only ski resort in Michigan that experiences a few avalanches each season. Part of the Iron Mountain range, Mt. Bohemia boasts 900 vertical feet comprised of mostly gladed and very steep terrain with no grooming at all. Last year they asked Scott to teach an avalanche course which has expanded into two classes for the 2015/2016 season.
What Sets Jans’ Avalanche Courses Apart?
Under Scott’s tutelage, WPT has developed an AIARE avalanche education program that is considered one of the premier programs in the western U.S.
So what makes it special? “We provide a lot of training for our instructors and give them a lot of logistical support,” says Scott. “Both of those things tie directly to student learning outcomes.” And while the required student-to-instructor ratio is 7-to-1, White Pine’s avalanche courses ensure a 6-to-1 ratio, which gets even better when Scott himself is there supporting the instructors.
Last year, White Pine even started offering an additional eight hours of online instruction to course participants. This is in addition to the three days and 24 hours of instruction required by AIARE.
And unlike other avalanche courses, when you sign up for an avalanche course with White Pine, everything is included – not only the cost of the class itself, but all rental equipment, transportation, manuals, registration and insurance fees.
What really sets the WPT avalanche courses apart is the instructors. “We have a handful of very talented people who bring a wide range of knowledge to the table,” boasts Scott. “The majority of our instructors have been teaching for five years or longer, including a fully certified IFMGA mountain guide who also serves as our technical advisor and helps with training. He brings us the most up-to-date info in the industry.”
And while Scott’s respect for his team of instructors is effusive, the same can be said for how the instructors feel about him. “I have been teaching avalanche education for 20 years, and have had the privilege of working with Scott House for the last four years. His commitment to promoting a quality avalanche education program is unparalleled,” remarks Bruce Engelhard, one of WPT’s avalanche instructors.”
What Is the Focus of an Avalanche Course?
Scott explains that an AIARE Level 1 course concentrates more on practicality than science, and gives students information that they can use immediately. They learn to determine strong snow versus weak snow and how their snow study relates to an avalanche forecast from reliable sources.
Alternatively, the Level 2 AIARE course is much more focused on the science side of life and is the next level of information. This course is much more theoretical than a Level 1 course. Instead of merely trying to confirm an avalanche forecast, students who complete a Level 2 course will be able to formulate their own forecast based on theorizing what the snowpack is going to do.
Lastly, an AIARE Level 3 course is far more in-depth than the previous courses. Students learn to identify every layer of a snow profile without question. According to Scott, “You are basically becoming a professional forecaster at that point.”
Despite hours of skiing and guiding in the backcountry, Scott says he’s been “fortunate enough to never have to uncover a friend or a client,” which isn’t surprising given his attention to detail and commitment to avalanche safety.
“Scott’s understanding of the curriculum and his constant participation in the daily teaching help us all maintain the highest and most up-to-date standards possible,” reflects Bruce. “And along with all of this, Scott’s utmost concern is to always have the safety of our clients and his staff as his primary focus.”
Liz Yokubison, Senior Editor