Women take on avalanche safety in Colorado backcountry skiing
Ski and snowboard pros offer SAFE AS course to fellow intrepid ladies.
When big mountain pro Michelle Parker first came out to Colorado at the beginning of the winter, she knew she’d have almost no chance of skiing powder. Instead, she came to Copper Mountain for the SAFE AS avalanche clinic, a series of female-only events she hosted with a few fellow backcountry pros.
When others are going ga-ga over fresh snow, Parker understands the risks will outweigh the rewards right after a huge storm. It’s a lesson she quickly learned when she left the U.S. Freeskiing slopestyle circuit in 2011 and started filming with Red Bull, Poor Boyz and Matchstick Productions. She sure as hell knows how to ski, but she also knows when not to.
Now, Parker and the SAFE AS instructors are passing their knowledge to the next generation of female backcountry skiers.
Explore Summit: Talk about avy safety in Colorado. Should people do anything differently here than they would in Jackson Hole or anywhere else?
Michelle Parker: Avy safety is across the board the same, but the snowpack always varies depending where you are. When we come to Colorado, we do a case study with an event that happened in Colorado. That way it makes it relatable — maybe they heard it on the news or heard it from a friend or whatever. I think if you have that personal connection, then people will take it more seriously and think about it more critically, put more effort and attention into what they’re doing.
ES: The SAFE AS clinics are built by women, for women. Where did that concept come from?
MP: I think we really just wanted to create a space that was encouraging for women to start their avalanche education. It’s also a good refresher course for anyone who has done this before. A lot of times, as a female, you might feel overwhelmed in an Avalanche 1 course because you’re the only girl there. We just wanted to give back to our community by creating a space that’s super encouraging. Now, you can go out with your girlfriends with your own knowledge. You aren’t just relying on a boyfriend or someone else, and if everyone knows what’s happening — knows what to look for — then everyone benefits, everyone is safer.
ES: Have the clinics and this new business made you a better backcountry skier, someone who’s more aware of what’s happening out there?
MP: Yes, it’s huge to be able to teach this. It helps you learn as well. We’re all getting a refresher before heading into the season, and these clinics have really kept everything at the front of our minds. We’re also learning more about avalanche curriculum and how people are teaching about safety. I’m constantly practicing because this is something I take very seriously. My life is in my friends’ hands, and their lives are in mine, and it’s important to stay in touch with that.
Sherry McCONKEY snowboarder
“The fact that every time a weekend goes by and we get 60 more women understanding the backcountry, that means so much to me. I also selfishly like this for me because it’s a refresher. That way we can go into the backcountry feeling more confident. It’s amazing how many people go into the backcountry without knowing anything and this just enlightens you about a very important thing: how to stay safe before you go.”
ROBIN VAN GYN snowboarder
Whistler, British Columbia
“It’s just an awesome vibe and a great way to learn while meeting new people. It’s great for them to meet like-minded women who also want to get out there in the backcountry. It’s just better to learn when you have a group of like-minded people.”
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