Silverton Avalanche School Reprise
Beacon, probe, shovel, saw, collapsible ruler, Avalung/ABS float pack, First Aid kit, Snow Study Kit, Klean Kanteen (camel hoses freeze), knife, compass, headlamp (you never know…) Sunscreen, chap-stick… This damn pack is like forty pounds now… Extra hat, extra pit gloves, cordelette, big orange Black Diamond ski straps (nicely holds ridiculously fat skis/poles together and make wonderful tourniquets), skis, poles, skins and AT Boots. Whew! Am I missing anything? Oh yeah! Pen, notepad, “The Avalanche Handbook”, “Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain”, “Human Factors in Avalanche Accidents”, “Heuristic Traps in Recreational Avalanche Accidents: Evidence and Implications”, “Snow, Weather, and Avalanches: Observation Guidelines for Avalanche Programs in the US”, the AIARE Field Book and a bunch of Topo’s.
My God, just a few thousand dollars in gear, a couple thousand pages in texts and articles and it’s no wonder that its so easy for armchair avalanche quarterbacks to get outfitted at the local shop, take a couple runs in dangerous terrain and have the hubris to act like an authority or an expert… better yet, an “Institute” (I hope you can understand the sarcastic humor, if not, please just save your brain cells and Google “Backcountry Skiing” on Youtube and enjoy the safety of your parents’ basement shredding virtual pow.
The point I’m going to excruciating lengths to emphasize here is that for a given amount of time, money and reading effort, anyone can get the gear, read some print and get out in the backcountry and slay like a hero. And there are a staggering amount of these “Tom Brady’s of the Backcountry” hitting our favorite zones and stashes. The crucial link that is missing in this already weakened chain is a good dose of education, hence, the backbone of this textual poetic waxing.
I was fortunate enough to be able to forego the Super Bowl weekend in the “Male-Valley” and head down to the legendary town of Silverton, CO. We have all seen the ski-porn, the sick double/triple stager lines on film and the limitless attitude/mindset of the popular culture powder skiing industry that has turned an old historic mining town into the Mecca for extreme powder skiing in the lower 48. It all looks sweet on the silver screen, personally, I love the segments and it admittedly sucks me in every time. But again, the big factor missing here is education. Never once do I see in these segments any kind of emphasis on getting educated/trained and what it really takes to drop such aesthetically pristine lines complements of Red Bull or Warren Miller.
Contrary to popular culture’s awareness, Silverton is also home to the “Nation’s most respected avalanche education since 1962”. If you want to learn from an expert, professional or a professional expert, Silverton Avalanche School is your ticket to priceless knowledge and they are an actual bona fide licensed “School”! I bagged Level 1 there and liked it so much, I came back for more… Level 2.
Getting the Level 1 or 2 cert. is not a license to post up and become an authority. It’s more like the fundamental knowledge of backcountry education. Where tools and info are presented so that the students can start to build a solid foundation of knowledge and a “tool kit” to become educated travelers and observers of the “Off-Piste”. Level 1 and Level 2 are the beginning steps in a lifetime of learning and exploring the backcountry. After one or two of these important steps are accomplished, we should all be able to enjoy and play nicely in the sandbox… and be able to speak the same language.
To be quite honest, the SAS Level 2 is more than the 30 student classroom can handle in four and a half days of drinking from an informational fire hydrant. There is so much info and particular nuances to pay attention to that, it is surprising people don’t leave the San Juan’s dumber than when they came. I certainly was humbled and reflected on all my stupidity and bad decision making prior to my formal Avi education… It makes one realize how very little one knows, or thought one knew! Thank goodness for the instructors’ expert and professional presence of mind to reel in the blind sheep as soon as they lose the forest for the trees or the pasture for the grass, however one can make a synopsis out of it. And then take the students out into the real backcountry environment and reestablish the application of theory to actual backcountry praxis. In a way, it’s an education for both the teacher and the student. The student is able to learn and apply their knowledge and Avi skills, while the instructors observe the human nature of groups in the backcountry. Win-Win, we are always going to be learning, whether we are Mr. Miyagi or little Daniel-san. But once school’s out and we’re on our own, those pros and experts won’t be there to coral us from our idiocy. Hopefully, we have been able to choke down as much info as we can and not lose the big picture.
This trip, like any, was a real eye opener, a quintessential microcosm of the backcountry public. From mountaineering late teenagers to off-piste shredding silver foxes and foxettes and everyone in between, these people are our backcountry community, our family. Fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters and we owe it to them to make sure that when we are recreating in the backcountry that we posses the skills, tools and knowledge/education to be able to look out for one another and to be able to save each other from our own stupidity/bad decisions or just mother nature being the cruel bitch she can sometimes be. I’ve made some really dumb mistakes, poor decisions and I am probably due for a few more, but being Avi-educated has allowed me to mitigate those human errors and become a better member of the backcountry community.
For those in the audience that want to just say “screw it” and go drop in on our favorite zones take heed. You really owe it to yourself to go and get educated first and foremost. It will make you a better rider and a better human, not to mention a hero if you are put in a situation where you will have to be the one to save a member of your family/community (the respect is also owed to them). The whole purpose of my involvement here is to raise the awareness of the uncontrolled environment such as EV and to help raise the bar and caliber of the typical shred-head that slays it out there. We are not egos yelling from across the valley that “you’re a gaper” and you should “turn your beacon on because we say so”… we are a part of the community that care about the well being of anyone who loves to ride where we do. We are more than willing to share our stories and experiences and hopefully add a little humor to the mix to keep it fresh.
If you want to know, ask questions. If you need the education, check out Silverton Avalanche School, Friends of Berthoud Pass or your local community colleges, amongst many local guide/education services. There are awareness classes, Level 1 and 2 certs abound. There are awesome people at these organizations and future friends and riding partners. It’s an obvious win-win. You won’t leave any of these places an expert in Avy-savviness, but you will leave with the tools and skills to get out there and be safe when you are traveling and riding avalanche terrain. But lastly, if you haven’t noticed, this is the most notoriously dangerous Colorado snow pack in recent history. If you haven’t taken advantage of the opportunities to go get some education, this is a better time than any. This snow pack laboratory is probably the best you could learn from. It opened my eyes wide and taught me many important lessons. Don’t really need to be preaching to the choir, but the choir does need to learn a few new songs now and again…
Some Pictures for your view pleasure and see you out there!