MM Collection
Checking in from the Condor's Nest on Illimani, Bolivia. MM Collection
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December 20, 2013

Avalanche Season Kicks Off With Private Avy Course

I woke up this morning to snow all over the trees and roads around my place near downtown Seattle. If it’s snowing in Seattle, you know what that means for the mountains…! I immediately turned on my computer and went directly to the Northwest Avalanche Center’s website (www.nwac.us) to check on the latest weather, snow, and avalanche conditions. The avalanche center had rated the avalanche danger for today in much of the Cascades as HIGH: “Natural Avalanches are Likely; Human Triggered Avalanches are Very Likely”. Wow, just in time. I had just wrapped up our first avalanche course of the season yesterday. I was joined by several folks from Seattle based Yukon Trading Company for a private Level 1 avalanche course

Kirby gets his stride as he practices the "run" portion (signal search) of avalanche Resuce. Dallas Glass photo

One of the great parts of a private avalanche course is we have the flexibility to adjust the schedule and the topics to meet the objectives of the students. We all gathered Tuesday afternoon at Yukon’s gorgeous showroom to sit down and discuss some of the fundamentals of avalanches, avalanche terrain, and group management. While there is a great benefit to learning in a “classroom” environment, I find that it’s the time outside where the real learning takes place. Like all MM avalanche courses, we spent two full days out in the mountains. We had selected Stevens Pass as the location for our two tours and it was time to play in the mountains. 

Fast, Efficient, and Effective. The group gets into slinging some snow during the strategic shoveling drill. Dallas Glass photo

Our first day began with a short tour to a nearby field site for some companion rescue practice and snow layer observations. The group discussed how the recent weather had created the layers in the snowpack that we could see right in front of us. Although the current snowpack didn’t have any striking weakness, we knew an approaching storm could change that. Just before lunch we shifted our focus to practicing companion rescue. It was great to take the time to learn and practice each step of an effective companion rescue.  The team did a spectacular job communicating to each other as they worked. Normally this is where I drone on and on about how great the skiing was on the way back to the cars. Unfortunately, anyone who has been out in the Cascades recently knows the skiing is less than ideal. 

I may get lost in the city, but I sure know which way to go in the mountains. Lance measures the slope aspect with a compass. Dallas Glass photo

Understanding the limitations of the current ski conditions, the group made a wise choice to limit the travel on their second tour day and instead focus on observation skills, terrain identification, and more companion rescue. This is a great idea that I use in my own personal skiing. When the skiing is marginal it’s a great day to practice skills and enjoy just being outside. So, that’s exactly what we did. As we traveled up the mountain we measured slope angles and aspects. Taking the time to measure these slopes on safe days helps us become skilled at identifying avalanche terrain. As we moved we made numerous observations that were relevant to the current avalanche danger forecast. After a great day in the mountains, we reconvened to recap the course and discuss the skills we each had developed. It was a great time exploring the mountains and avalanche education together. 

Using the tools we have at hand, Ben searches for problem layers in the upper snowpack. Dallas Glass photo

A special thanks to Ryan and Yukon Trading Company for setting up another course this season. I hope y’all have a great winter playing in the mountains.

~ MM Guide Dallas Glass