Last weekend, Utah’s Snowbird Ski Resort resort hosted the first annual Freeride Avalanche Summit, a class geared toward advanced skiers and snowboarders who spend time in the backcountry shooting, filming, and skiing. The class couldn’t have had better timing. Early snowfalls compounded by recent cold temperatures around the country have contributed to creating a dangerous snowpack throughout the backcountry from Colorado to Oregon. There have already been several avalanche fatalities and multiple close calls. But in spite of the conditions, people are still out in the backcountry pushing the limits and often overlooking the obvious warning signs that are everywhere flashing like neon billboards.
The Freeride Avalanche Summit offered more than 20 hours of classroom and on-mountain instruction during the two-day session. Topics included snowpack analysis with Bruce Temper, the lead forecaster at the Utah Avalanche Center, terrain assessment with Jim Conway, a lead Teton Gravity Resarch guide, as well first aid techniques and emergency notification procedures taught by Snowbird and Alta ski patrols as well as briefings with Wasatch Powderbirds, a heli-ski outfitter.
A medical helicopter team based in Salt Lake City explained helicopter rescues and the protocol to use around a chopper, if the situation arises where one is called in. Ski patrol and professional athletes provided briefings and actual line selection sessions. It was a unique blend of instruction that combine the expertise of the industry’s avalanche forecasters, and the first hand experience of professional athletes. The overall goal of the class was to get the point across that in the backcountry it shouldn’t be about the sick shot, or film line; it should be about getting back to the car safely with your friends.
You can take all the avalanche classes in the world, but it you don’t listen to what the mountains are telling you, you have learned nothing. John Muir perhaps put it best when he said, “Mountains Speak, Wise Men Listen.” The mountains don't care if you have taken a hundred classes, they don't care if you are a pro or a beginner. Often the signs are right in your face, jumping out at you, but if you’re only focused on your goal of a getting to the top of a peak or dropping in on that sick line, those warnings are lost on you.