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Going to Avalanche School

Elyse Saugstad in the Whistler, BC backcountry. Photo by Natalie Imlach

Elyse Saugstad in the Whistler, BC backcountry. Photo by Natalie Imlach

Get ready for winter with snow safety clinics and avalanche education.

On February 19, 2012, Elyse Saugstad skied out the backcountry access gates at Washington’s Stevens Pass ski area with a group of 15 people. What happened next has been well documented: The party triggered a Class 3 avalanche in the Tunnel Creek drainage, just outside the resort boundary. Three people died. Saugstad—who was wearing an avalanche airbag—was the only person taken by the slide to survive.

Next month, Saugstad returns to ski Stevens Pass for the first time since the tragedy. And to host a new women’s clinic called SAFE-AS. Taught by Saugstad and pro skiers Ingrid Backstrom, Jackie Passo, and Michelle Parker, plus AIARE avalanche instructor Lel Tone and Sherry McConkey, wife of the late Shane McConkey, the acronym stands for Skiers Advocating and Fostering Education for Avalanche and Snow Safety. “There is so much more backcountry access from ski resorts these days,” says Saugstad. “People sometimes have a false sense of security when they dip the ropes.”

SAFE-AS started as a single event at California’s Squaw Valley last winter. This year, clinics take place at Utah’s Snowbird on December 5, Squaw the weekend of December 8–9, Washington’s Crystal Mountain on December 14, and at Stevens Pass on December 15. McConkey leads participants through morning yoga to start, followed by a class session, on-snow practice, skiing and snowboarding, and après. For more information and to sign up, visit safeasclinics.org. “The Leavenworth and Stevens Pass community has been so supportive,” says Saugstad. “It’s a huge deal to come back and spread the love with avalanche awareness and snow safety.”

Get educated. Check out more courses below, or visit avalanche.org and aiare.info for information on classes around North America.

Synnott Mountain Guides, NH

This East Coast operation offers custom Mount Washington avalanche awareness courses on the legendary terrain of Tuckerman Ravine and the Gulf of Slides. Instructors cover route finding, identifying avalanche terrain, companion rescue, and snowpack assessment. From $275; newhampshireclimbing.com

Bell Lake Yurt, MT

A three-day Level 1 avalanche class at this outpost in southwest Montana’s Tobacco Root Range offers an immersive backcountry experience and ample terrain options. “Yurt courses are just fun,” says instructor Clark Corey. “People bond—and the more friendly the atmosphere is, the more comfortable people are asking questions.” $500 per person; belllakeyurt.com

Rocky Mountain Guides, CO

Instructor David Dellamora brings more than a decade’s worth of experience in mountain guiding and search and rescue to three-day Level 1 and Level 2 avalanche courses in Summit County. Colorado Avalanche Information Center avalanche forecasters visit classroom sessions, and easily accessible backcountry zones offer ample opportunity for field study. From $350; rockymountainguides.com —Olivia Dwyer




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