Staying safe in the backcountry |

Staying safe in the backcountry

Janice Kurbjun
summit daily news

Summit Daily News/Janice Kurbjun

As snow season approaches and locals are trading mountain bikes for skis and snowboards, some are starting to eye the surrounding peaks, looking out-of-bounds for their wintery entertainment this season.

Colorado is among the western states most prone to avalanches due to its snowpack, a striated surface that’s typically unpredictable and often unstable. It takes a close eye on avalanche forecasts and solid backcountry know-how to navigate out-of-bounds terrain. Luckily, Summit County organizations offer opportunities to learn safe backcountry protocol.

Among them are four courses recently put on the calendar through Rocky Mountain Guides offering an American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) certification.

Level One Avalanche Safety courses are set for Nov. 29-Dec. 2, with two evening classroom sessions on Thursday and Friday (6-10 p.m.) and two field days on Saturday and Sunday. Dec. 14-16, Jan. 21-23 and Feb. 8-10 courses offer combined classroom and field sessions daily. Courses cost $325.

The certification allows those completing the courses to move on to Level Two courses. For more information and pricing, call Rocky Mountain Guides at (970) 409-9555.

Colorado Mountain College also offers avalanche instruction, but the fall semester’s courses typically fill with waiting lists forming as soon as registration day. More classes should open up in the spring.

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The Colorado Avalanche Information Center offers custom courses, with information available at


The Chicago Ridge snowcat tour program at the nearby Ski Cooper Ski Resort has previously combined classroom instruction with on-snow practice, including shuttling pupils into the backcountry via the machinery used for cat tours. Find out more information online at

It’s also never a bad idea to go outside of home territory to seek backcountry knowledge, said David Dellamora with Rocky Mountain Guides.

“I firmly believe that leaving your home terrain, while seeking education, is actually more beneficial than taking classes at home,” he said via email. “When you travel to an unfamiliar location, you develop the ability to better understand both mountains and peers from an altered perspective. You begin to recognize that all mountains demand a high level of respect, not just the peaks you live near. Whenever I return to Summit County, my confidence rises, simply because I have experienced unfamiliar terrain from a visitors perspective.”

He endorses course providers on the Front Range as well as programs offered by Aspen Expeditions, Crested Butte Mountain Guides and the Silverton Avalanche School.

“The instructors are all elites within the professional avalanche community,” Dellamora said.

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