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How to Properly Prepare for Avalanches

How to Properly Prepare for Avalanches

Avalanches are awesome.

The power and majesty of massive snow slides — which have been known to hit 80 mph in five seconds — can leave a witness slack-jawed with wonder.

But they are dangerous beasts and best viewed from afar.

However, for those venturing beyond the friendly confines of their local ski hill, avalanches are a clear and present danger, and it behooves any back-country skier or snowboarder (or snowshoer or snowmobiler, for that matter) to be constantly on the alert.

You should have the basic knowledge of how and why avalanches occur — for instance, 90 percent of accidents are caused by the victim or someone in the victim’s party — and possess the basic tools (beacon, probe, shovel) to help minimize the damage should one strike.

Learn from the pros

You could get such information from the internet or a publication, but it’s best to get first-hand and hands-on advice from the pros.

And there are several such gatherings every fall, usually all-day seminars on the risks and dangers of back-country winter travel and how to avoid being another fatal statistic.

The following are among the best:

  • Colorado Snow and Avalanche Workshop, Oct. 5, Breckenridge Riverwalk Center, Breckenridge, Colo.
  • California Avalanche Workshop, Oct. 20, North Tahoe Event Center, Kings Beach, Calif.
  • Wyoming Snow and Avalanche Workshop, Oct. 27, Center for the Arts, Jackson, Wyo.
  • Utah Snow and Avalanche Workshop, Oct. 27, Mountain America Expo Center, Sandy, Utah.
  • Northwest Snow and Avalanche Workshop, Oct. 27, The Mountaineers, Seattle.
  • Northern Rockies Snow and Avalanche Workshop, Nov. 3, O’Shaughnessy Cultural Arts Center, Whitefish, Mont.
  • Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop, Nov. 3, Fryeburg Academy, Fryeburg, Maine.
  • Bend Snow and Avalanche Workshop, Nov. 10, Central Oregon Community College, Bend, Ore.
  • Montana Snow and Avalanche Workshop, Nov. 26, Montana State University campus, Bozeman, Mont.

Also, the American Institute for Avalanche research and Education is conducting two-hour evening sessions at selected REI stores across the Pacific Northwest from Oct. 30-Dec. 17, and Alibi Ale Works in Truckee, Calif., is hosting an evening Beacons and Beers event on Nov. 14.

Further resources

Once you’ve learned how to safely conduct yourself in avalanche country, check out these Web sites to get  weather and avalanche-danger forecasts:

Dan Giesin

Dan Giesin

Dan Giesin has spent most of his life poking around the mountains of the American West, especially in his backyard Sierra Nevada range. It has been -- and still is -- an uplifting experience
Dan Giesin