Greetings from Ouray, Colorado! It’s been an eventful few days: we finished Spring 1 finals, flew to Colorado, had a great day skiing in Telluride on Friday to get our ski legs back, dealt with some weather-related itinerary changes, drove to Ouray and started avalanche training with Peak Mountain Tours.
The original plan for the trip was to do a backcountry hut trip on Saturday through Thursday. Of course our number one goal for the trip is to stay safe, and a perfect storm of snow and weather conditions made getting up in the mountains these next few days too risky because of avalanche danger. Luckily our guide recommended a great alternative while we wait out the storm: receiving avalanche training certification through a mixture of classroom and in-the-field learning and doing some backcountry touring on some lower risk terrain. We’ll most likely get to get out into the huts Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Now for the fun part: what we’ve been up to the past couple of days!
Classroom learning: We’ve had approximately six hours of classroom instruction over the past couple of days where we have learned the basics of avalanche safety. What surprised me most is just how predictable avalanches are. In general, when there is an accident from an avalanche, it could have been avoided with a more comprehensive assessment of the risk. Experts in backcountry safety work hard to ensure their safety. Before skiing down, they do thorough checks of their surroundings. All skiers wear beacons and carry probes and shovels.
Getting into the backcountry and putting our knowledge into practice: We spent time in the classroom learning the basics of companion rescue using beacons, probes and shovels, but of course it’s always different once you try the techniques out for yourself. On Saturday we split into teams and practiced companion rescue using a buried backpack. In teams of three we used our beacons to locate a buried backpack and practiced finding exactly where the backpack was buried and digging it out quickly and efficiently. It felt great to get outside and have the opportunity to practice what we learned in the classroom. I think we all gained a better appreciation for the tremendous effort and strength that goes into avalanche rescue.
On Sunday we learned to conduct avalanche tests by digging a snow profile. This involved digging a 10 foot cave in the snow, shaving down walls and cutting into the walls to test the snow by examining each layer. Digging the profile was no easy feat- 2 hours with a group of seven. This exercise taught us a ton about the snow gained an even greater appreciation for avalanche safety.
Touring: At the end of the day Sunday we finally got a taste of backcountry touring at Red Mountain Pass. After building the snow profile we hiked a ways up the mountain and got to take a few turns down. It was my first taste of the backcountry and it was such a thrill (and a challenge!) Tomorrow we are set for a longer ski tour and then we take off for the huts Tuesday. Our team is excited to keep the skiing momentum going and enjoy the next few days in the backcountry. -Heather Langerman, March 2, 2014