Women’s avalanche clinic returns to Copper | SummitDaily.com

Women’s avalanche clinic returns to Copper

Ingrid Backstrom (right, blue jacket) and Elyse Saugstad (far right, pink jacket) lead a group of women practicing beacon searches and rescue scenarios during last year's SAFE-AS clinic.
Re Wikstrom / SAFE AS |

An introductory avalanche clinic led by several professional skiers will return to Copper for its second year. The SAFE AS (Skiers Advocating and Fostering Education for Avalanche and Snow Safety) clinics will take place on Dec. 19 and 20, with professional skiers Elyse Saugstad, Michelle Parker, Jackie Paaso, Ingrid Backstrom and snowboard professional Robin Van Gyn instructing women in the classroom and on the slopes.

Parker, a Lake Tahoe-based professional skier, said they came up with the idea four years ago over coffee.

“(We) were talking afterwards about how we wanted to create a space where women feel really comfortable with avalanche safety,” she said. “It’s really information-filled. It’s a great start to your avalanche education.”

The day starts with a morning yoga class led by Sherry McConkey before moving into classroom instruction, including planning a day in the backcountry, checking weather forecasts and communicating with your group. Later in the afternoon, the group will move onto the snow to practice rescue drills.

“We want to give you the tools to be a valuable member of the group when you’re traveling out there,” Parker said. “We have everyone run through drills of finding a person buried underneath the snow. It’s the most important part of the avalanche process; you need to find a person and save their life.”

The five professionals and a certified avalanche instructor will teach attendees to use a beacon and probe and how to conduct a pinpoint search after a slide.

The clinic will not provide certification but can serve as preparation for an avalanche level-one course.

“This is a good opportunity to really start that process and to get women into that environment,” said Copper communications manager Stephanie Sweeney. “Everyone should have some knowledge before they get into the backcountry.”

At the end of each event, a raffle will be used to raise funds for charities across the United States, including the Colorado-based Avalanche Project, the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) and the High Fives Non-Profit Foundation, which helps athletes who have suffered life-altering injuries.

Last year, the SAFE AS clinics raised just over $14,000 for these nonprofits.

Registration for the two, 30-person clinics is still open at safeasclinics.wordpress.com. The course costs $140 for women ages 14 and up, and $110 for students with ID. Essay-based scholarships are also available.

“We want this to be accessible to a lot of different women,” Parker said. “We want to encourage and inspire them to get their avalanche level one and also create a community.“

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