Recap on my Level 1 AIARE course… Upon arriving in Jackson I had no intent of taking an avalanche course. Once here, seeing the Teton range and the scale of the mountains and the variety of the terrain, my thought was “I had better be prepared for this environment or I’m going to get hurt.” Luckily Jackson Hole has its own set of mountain guides JHMG (Jackson Hole Mountain Guides). I had done some reading about avalanches but I really didn’t feel up to par when it came to my skill set. So naturally the first place to start is at Level 1. I signed up and upon signing up on a whim during Avalanche Awareness night at SnowKing resort. I scored a 10% discount. So $279, and the next morning I was sitting in their office.
Required gear was an Avalanche Beacon, Snow Shovel, Probe, and Back Country Touring gear (i.e. splitboard) Everything outside of the touring gear you can pick up for about $300 dollars if you look around. The Touring gear can be rented.
The Course followed the curriculum That AIARE (the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education) has published in the hopes that the mountain community can standardize the way people learn and apply skills in the back country concerning avalanches. The Level 1 course was set up to include 40% time in the class room and 60% of time in the field, the course was 3 days.
Day one was and introduction and really an eye opener to how much I don’t know about avalanches. We started by discussing a Decision Making Framework and reviewing a skills checklist. Dove right into the Types of Avalanches and different Characteristics of them, whether it be a point release, soft slab, wind slab and so forth. This led into layer formation, which personally I had no idea existed, my previous view of snow was that it fell pilled up and when there got to be to much it slid down hill. Needless to say this view point was very narrow. There are layers involved and they change over time due to variables such as wind and temperature, sun and rain. Also the terrain plays a huge part. All of these things are to be looked at and taken into account. In the afternoon we spent time practicing with our Avalanche Beacons.
Day two started in the field. We met at a small coffee shop in Wilson, WY and Carpooled up to Philips Trail Head. From here we did a short skin up into the trees and ridge line area. Here we took a moment to dig snow pits, check layers in the snow and do a stability test. Upon returning to the JHMG office later in the day, as a group, we discussed what we found there and also compared it to the existing avalanche bulletin for the day. Communication within a group is key, both the guides (Brian and Erica), and the group worked very well together and were very open to discussion. We also discussed route planning and choosing routes, a skill all its own, relating Topo maps to what you can expect to see in the mountains and the terrain you will encounter. As a group we planned our trip for the next day.
Day Three we started at Philips Trail Head, today was much more field oriented. It included a 4 mi skin up to the west ridge of Glory Bowl, during the approach we paired up to dig snow pits and to access our surroundings. When we arrived at the ridge, the fun part came in, which was strapping my board on and taking powder runs out of there. During our decent we practice using our Avalanche Beacons again.
Everything said and done we received a certificate of completion and new set of skills to take into the mountains.
Overall, I learned I don’t know much about avalanches, I know I don’t want to be in them. Traveling with a partner is essential to my safety, and staying up to date on what the snow pack is doing is essential. If I am not constantly furthering my understanding of what is going on in the mountains I am putting myself in danger.
Here are some helpful links to point anyone interested in the right direction.
The American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education