Quandary: How to become more avy aware
January 30, 2016
Where can I learn more about avalanche safety?
People travel hundreds and thousands of miles to make it to Summit's groomers, but that just isn't enough of a thrill anymore, eh? Boy talk about spoiled, but I suppose that untracked powder does call to even the most goodie two-shoes skiers.
Well, when you get that itch to color outside the lines, problems can start to occur, if you aren't prepared beforehand. Luckily, there's a wide variety of ways to keep yourself informed. Readycolorado.com can provide basic safety tips if you just do some Web surfing before your backcountry sliding. However, as effective as Googling "avalanche safety tips" is, just reading isn't enough. Make sure you truly understand the risks you are taking, how to quantify those risks and how to get your butt out of a bad situation before you end up in the deep stuff. When you are hooves over horns under a slab is not the time to start thinking about safety.
For starters, one tip you will often see explains avalanches occur most often on slopes of 30 to 45 degrees. If you take a peek at our peaks, can you judge their slopes? And no, I don't mean judging things like 'Oh, all the trees are so far down on that mountain.' If you aren't good at geometry, or at the very least can't get an idea of the difference between 15 and 30 degrees, you're not prepared. The same is true for an avalanche beacon. They are fantastic tools that can get rescuers to you in a hurry, but only if you know how to use one.
So how do you get from Googling guru to true expert? Don't just rely on a goat for your safety. The good folks of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) provide a wealth of resources for anyone looking to get into the backcountry. CAIC offers a variety of classes helping everyone from students to a freeskiing phenom get their skills up. All CAIC classes are taught by instructors certified either through the American Avalanche Association or the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education. If you look into a program hosted by another organization make sure the instructors have equitable qualifications. It is relatively simple nowadays for anyone to teach a class, so do your research to make sure you aren't just listening to some goat full of hot air preaching to the herd.
Copper Mountain Resort offers Safety Fest every January, but also hosts a Safety Zone on their website that will offer tips for keeping you upright and injury free through the ski season. They also make the phone number for ski patrol readily available in case you have any questions or if any of their tips don't make sense. Keystone, Breckenridge and Arapahoe Basin also offer safety tips online and on the mountain. If you really want to chat with an expert, you can do ski patrol sweeps at Keystone or ride with a ranger at both Breckenridge and Copper.
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Now even if you feel like your skills are up to snuff, still check the CAIC website before heading out to see what the current risk levels are for an avalanche. Conditions change daily, and you can only be effective if you are prepared.
Quandary, an old and wise mountain goat, has been around Summit County for ages, and has the answers to any question about life, love and laws in the High Country. Have a question for Quandary? Send an email to email@example.com
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