It was an exciting weekend for teaching avalanche courses. Rocky Mountain National Park received around a foot of new snow and with some wind created some sensitive slabs. Colorado Mountain School taught both a Level 1 and a Level 2. The recent backcountry fatality in Colorado is a sober reminder of the risks we take as backcountry users and the importance of having a foundation of education to help make critical decisions.
The Level 1 course had 10 students who were all very enthusiastic to be learning more about avalanches. On day 1 we spent the morning in the classroom learning about avalanche mechanics and more importantly how to recognize avalanche terrain. In the field, with the snow dumping, we practiced companion rescue and learned firsthand how difficult it can be to move over a ton of snow to dig someone out of the snow. We were able to run a realistic scenario that surprised all students and with a dummy buried in the snow gave folks a realistic burst of adrenaline. All students were really excited about the scenario and saw the importance of leadership in an effective companion rescue.
Day 2 brought bluebird conditions and the park was fresh and beautiful with all the new snow. How would the new snow bond with the old snow surface was the big question we set out to answer. As avalanche educators we like to poke and prod the snowpack to see if we can get the snow to avalanche. We do this on small slopes with minimum consequences of being caught, we call these slopes test slopes. Sure enough, instabilities were found and we got some slopes to move.
The new snow is resting on a weak layer that was formed during the period of no snow and slides easily especially on southern aspects. On our last day in the field we again got a slope to slide which was quite dramatic. The crown was 2 feet deep at the deepest and was about 70 feet wide and ran another 80 feet. Standing just 50 feet from this slide I could feel it in my body, an amazing experience!
AIARE Level 1 and 2 Instructor