crowd of skiers stands and looks on as avalanche safety instructor digs in the snow to show snow layers

Know Your Backcountry: Avi 1 Classes at Jans in Park City, UT

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Getting out into the backcountry is in the back of every skier’s head. Every time we get off the chairlift and look down at the swarms of “moderate” skiers shredding the mountain we see the untouched out-of-bounds areas that are only accessible by backcountry gates and skin tracks.

And then you think to yourself, “man, that looks like a lot of fun.” And then you think, “I’m going to become a backcountry skier from now on.” So you saddle up with the latest backcountry gear: probe, shovel, light weight and rockered skis, touring bindings, and a beacon. However there is one last factor to take into account: You’re a novice.

Oh and being a novice also means you lack the education to safely navigate the backcountry, or even side-country for that matter. With backcountry skiing comes inherent risk of injury or even death. And being alive is great, the Earth and all its wonders are fun to explore. Staying alive while backcountry skiing is even better because not only did you get a taste of those wonders, you’re still alive.

So before you jump on your new touring setup or blow out the side-country gate with the “Are You Beeping?” sign, be sure to check out an AIARE Level 1 Avalanche Course.

The Education

AIARE or the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education is the governing body for teaching people how to stay alive.  AIARE has been in the “staying alive” business for a long time. Their education in the outdoor world runs deep and their instructors go through years of training and must have hundreds of hours of experience to become certified.

Our own White Pine Touring has multiple AIARE courses, all the way up to Level 3 Avalanche Courses. However your Level 1 Avalanche course is going to give you the information you need to safely have fun in the backcountry. This $250.00, three day, 24 hour class is an absolute must if you don’t have any backcountry experience. A certified instructor will emphasize awareness and avoidance of avalanche terrain. A basic checklist of what’s what is provided so you can make the best possible decisions while out on your favorite backcountry hills.

The first day is a night class where you will be taught how an avalanche occurs depending on the conditions of the environment where you are skiing. And two days on snow cover proper use of using a beacon, shovel and probe and other key skills such as recognizing slide paths and digging snow pits.

These skills are imperative to staying safe while you’re out there having fun in the backcountry. These skills also apply to sidecountry skiing. Many people take sidecountry access for granted and assume it is safe. Resort sidecountry DOES NOT go under any sort of avalanche control. Any time you go out of a gate at a ski resort, you are risking a lot, so be safe and get your avalanche education.

Putting Your Level 1 Avalanche Skills to Use

Now that you can skin into a zone and choose a safe route to make your turns you will have more confidence in the backcountry skiing. You won’t have that gut feeling about the possibility of an avalanche sucking you down into a white abyss. Although there is always potential for an avalanche, having done the proper preparation before you ride is much more likely to keep you alive while riding and clinking beer glasses at your favorite hole-in-the-wall bar at the end of the day.

– Paul Boyle, Marketing Specialist