Avalanche Safety Classes: If You’re Going to Ski or Ride the Backcountry, Be Prepared

Riding season is upon us, including the influx of powder-enticing ski/snowboard movies. As we watch in awe as the pros rip and slash through the scenes, the allure of riding powder in the backcountry becomes ever more present in our own dreams. We think, “Maybe this year I will venture out into the side/backcountry,” to experience that feeling of slashing the fresh, untouched, rarely-ridden slopes.

However, in the movies, we don’t see everything that goes into ensuring professional riders’ safety: having the proper gear set up (transceivers, shovel, probe, ABS packs, etc.), awareness that the slope is free of hazards such as cliffs and knowing the key elements of snow safety. Every effort is made to ensure ski movie athletes’ safety on the mountain. Professional guides are always present evaluating the conditions, weather and any hidden dangers that may lie in the descent below. Even with all those precautions, accidents happen and that’s when the training for survival skiers learned in their backcountry safety courses kicks in.

Photo: Larry Banks
Photo: Larry Banks

For everyday skiers and riders, having the knowledge base for accessing the terrain outside of resorts is imperative for recreating in these environments safely. It is critical to take at least a basic avalanche awareness class, or better yet, a multi-day course. These are relatively inexpensive ways to increase your knowledge for hiking, riding or sledding in potential avalanche areas. Additionally, they cover all the latest technology for avalanche survival, from air bag systems, different types of transceivers, GPS tools (such as SPOT), to resources for finding local weather and avalanche bulletins. Avalanche training has morphed over the years to provide different levels, from recreational to professional. Below are local classes, courses and resources that cover all the desired levels. For more info and updated class listings and to get plugged into the Inland Northwest backcountry scene, check out Panhandlebackcountry.com. 

Photo: Larry Banks.
Photo: Larry Banks

American Institute for Avalanche Research & Education (AIARE) Courses

Selkirk Outdoor Leadership & Education – AIARE Level 1
Dates: January 16-18, 2016 (8 a.m. – 5 p.m.)
Location: Schweitzer, Lookout Pass, Mt. Spokane, and/or Flatiron Mt., Mont.

Cost: $295 member, $325 non-member

Selkirk Outdoor Leadership & Education – AIARE Level 1
Dates: January 24-26, 2016 (8 a.m. – 5 p.m.)
Location: Schweitzer, Lookout Pass, Mt. Spokane, and/or Flatiron Mt., Mont.

Cost: $295 member, $325 non-member

Selkirk Outdoor Leadership & Education – AIARE Level 2
Dates & Location: TBD
Cost: $425 member, $475 non-member

More Info on SOLE’s AIARE Courses
928-351-SOLE (7653)

Local Avalanche Awareness Classes

SheJumps Intro to Avalanche Safety: Women’s Avalanche Awareness Class
Date: November 5, 2015 (2 hour class, time TBA)

Location: Gonzaga University

More info: Shejumps.org/region/pacific-coast

Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center Avalanche Awareness Classes

Date(s): TBA

More info: To set up your own group class (approx. 1.5-2 hours), contact Kevin Davis, 208-265-6686 or Idahopanhandleavalanche.org

NIC Outdoor Pursuits Avalanche Awareness Clinic
Dates: December 9 (3 hour class) and December 12 (field session)
Location: McLain Hall Outdoor Center and Coeur d’Alene National Forest
Cost: $75

More info: Nic.edu/events

Note: NIC also rents avalanche transceivers, shovels, probes, backcountry touring skis and splitboards

Selkirk Powder Company Avalanche Level 1 Class 

You have three opportunities to take this class that includes two weekday evening classroom sessions (5-9:30 p.m., locations vary) and one-day field session in the Selkirk Powder backcountry (8 a.m.-4 p.m.).

Dates: Class #1, December 9 & 10 (classroom, Sagle Senior Center) & 13 (field); Class #2, January 13 & 14 (classroom session, Mountain Gear) & January 16 or 17 (field); Class #3, February 10 & 11 (classroom session, Mountain Gear) & February 13 or 14 (field).

More info: 208-263-6959 or SelkirkPowder.com. // (Larry Banks)


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