-By Michelle Parker
With the new year upon us, I’ve successfully found mountains that are holding good snow. It’s been a bit of a search, or hunt as I would call it, this December. Starting out in California where the sun was shining bright. Temps were down, but the accumulation just wasn’t there. With high hopes of finding some depth in Utah, I went East with five of my best girl friends.
We held an avalanche clinic at Snowbird on December 5th called SAFE AS, Skiers Advocating and Fostering Education for Avalanche and Snow Safety. It was the first stop of five this year grown from one last year. A small and fun idea that we wanted to bring to the public in hopes of inspiring women and spreading avalanche awareness and education. Elyse Saugstad, Jackie Paaso, Ingrid Backstrom, Lel Tone, Sherry McConkey, and myself got together and with compiled efforts and resources to make this idea a reality.
Unfortunately, Snowbird didn’t have the snow we were looking for, but it did have an amazing group of women eager to improve their backcountry knowledge and skills, which is why we were there. We start off the clinic with a yoga session lead by Sherry McConkey before jumping into our classroom time. Our lead instructor Lel Tone sets the pace for the days activities and gives the classroom, filled with attentive ladies, the basics. One by one, Elyse, Jackie, Ingrid, and myself teach a section of our avalanche course.
I break down the anatomy of an avalanche using a tilt board inspired by Bill Glude an avalanche expert who splits his time in AK and Japan. Bill was my level one instructor six years ago in Haines, AK and truly inspired my interest in learning about avalanches, awareness, and rescue techniques. The tilt board simulates slope angle, bed surfaces, and different layers in the snowpack. Flour is representative of new snow, sugar is facets, millet is rounds, and crunched up lays potato chips represents surface hoar. By layering your snowpack evenly across the board and tilting the board, you’ll get a reaction at about 37 degrees typically. The board actually shows propagation, flanks, the crown, and the deposition zone of the simulated avalanche.
Jackie breaks down a local incident report, Ingrid talks about effective communication, and Elyse tells her first hand account from the Steven’s Pass avalanche that she survived a couple of years ago. Following the class room time, we head out on the hill to get some hands on learning and training with your avalanche rescue equipment (beacon, probe, and shovel). At the days end we debrief and celebrate with appetizers and a raffle.
Following the Snowbird event, we hosted two days at Squaw Valley, one at Crystal Mountain, and another at Steven’s Pass. The tour was a huge success. We had over 50 women wait listed and were able to raise over $5,000 for four different non-profits including High Fives Non-Profit, Utah Avalanche Center, Northwest Avalanche Center, and the South American Beacon Project. It was a really amazing experience to travel around with such an inspiring group of women and spread awareness about something that is so very important and pertinent in our worlds. One of the best ways to learn more is to teach!
Following these clinics, I’ve found myself sitting in a very old town amongst the San Juan Mountain Range, Silverton, CO, where I am watching winter come to life. It’s currently snowing outside, that classic Colorado light snow that falls neither left, right, or down, but all around like a snow globe being shook up. The snow here is light and fortunately for me, these mountains hold snow for weeks after a storm. I’ve come here to get some legs under me. Hiking around at 13,000 feet certainly helps build up that red blood cell count and the vert helps too. Season starts soon with MSP. Looking forward for that first trip and until then it’s as many laps as possible!