Avalanche danger is the biggest threat to safety when entering the backcountry, but thankfully taking an avalanche class is the easiest way to learn about mitigating risk to pursue your backcountry missions. There are truly dozens of reasons why you should take an avy class, but we’ll boil it down to five important ones!
1. Know Before You Go
Knowledge is key in the world of backcountry skiing. Avalanche classes can teach you how to see the winter world differently. Learn to see avalanche paths, learn basic route finding and navigating.
First and foremost, learn how to keep your group out of harm’s way in the first place! While simply taking a class won’t make you an expert, you will be introduced to these and other fundamentals of backcountry skiing in an avalanche education course.
2. Meet Local Skiers and Potential Ski Buddies
Backcountry skiing is a team sport. In many ways your safety is based upon the skills and decisions of your partners and your group, as a whole. While in the class you’ll practice and be tested on how to use your avalanche safety gear, which should be reviewed frequently. A local avalanche course is a great way to meet more like-minded skiers or snowboarders, then work on your skills with a knowledgeable posse.
3. Risk Avoidance
The best days in the backcountry are the days when everyone comes home safely. Avalanche classes are applicable to anyone who lives or spends time in snowy mountainous environments. Much of the teaching revolves around recognizing the variables that make an avalanche and how to know what is “avalanche terrain.” Avalanche classes help us learn everything that contributes to avalanche hazard – from slope angle, snow fall/snow pack, temperature, wind and aspect. All of this is also included in the daily Avalanche Advisory or Avalanche Forecast from the Sierra Avalanche Center.
4. Learn to Read the Avy Advisory
Want to learn how to look at the daily Avalanche Advisory from SAC and really “Know Before You Go”? You will learn how to interpret and apply the immense amount of information about our local snowpack and environment that is included in the daily advisory from SAC. You’ll learn not only how to understand what the forecasters are reporting, but to become a local avalanche forecaster yourself! Your instructor will share the clues we look for to help predict when and where avalanches will happen. Once you have the knowledge it can transform the way you see our snowy Tahoe landscape!
5. Get Into the Local Scene
An avalanche class really is just the start of a whole new experience with backcountry winter sports and the local scene. There are tons of additional resources around the area; from lectures, classes and help from professionals at gear shops like Tahoe Mountain Sports, Tahoe Sports Hub, The Backcountry, or Alpenglow, just to name a few. There’s even a promotional deal at Tahoe Sports Hub where, with the purchase of $1000 of backcountry gear they offer “an introduction to the equipment, backcountry touring basics, and the importance of avalanche awareness and education” class through a partnership with Alpenglow Expeditions. Once you learn what to look for and how to stay safe you can keep getting out and getting more comfortable, confident, safe and experienced.
Find a class that work for you, sign up and show up! For Avalanche Classes, lectures, gear, gear rentals, and information from the pros check out:
Tahoe Mountain School
About the author: Ben Hogan is a Truckee-based backcountry skier with nearly 20 years of experience and is a former Alpine Meadows Ski Patroller. He is a freelance adventure writer, a physician assistant and author of www.manystepsmakemountains.com.