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This Updated Backcountry Safety Course Is Meant for Skiers as Young as 13

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Avalanches kill around 40 people each year in North America alone, with hundreds more injured. Avalanches can happen to anyone, regardless of experience, and developing the knowledge and awareness of how to read avalanche terrain and respond accordingly is vital to navigating snowy terrain and minimizing avalanche risk. As sales of avalanche safety gear are on the rise and more skiers of all ages and abilities are exploring the backcountry, widespread, accessible avalanche education is important to match the growing interest in off-piste terrain.

On October 4, Know Before You Go (KBYG) is launching the third iteration of its avalanche awareness and education program with a virtual event that will include a KBYG presentation and session. Originally created in 2004, KBYG is dedicated to providing an overview of avalanche basics to audiences ages 13 and older. The new KBYG program is the culmination of a 24-month-long project involving many different partners focused on developing a more interactive and engaging curriculum for avalanche education that will better accommodate their younger audiences.

Read more: A Dad’s Wisdom for Introducing Youngsters to Backcountry Skiing

Sarah Cookler is the head coach for Silverfork Skimo, Utah’s youth ski mountaineering team. She works with a team of 40 kids ages 10-18 each week but knows that these kids are exploring the backcountry outside of training, too.

“I incorporate avalanche education into our training so that they can be prepared and make well-educated decisions while out in the mountains,” Cookler says. She opens each season with a presentation of the KBYG curriculum from the Utah Avalanche Center. “This helps get everyone in the right frame of mind and thinking about winter and the hazards that come with the terrain.”

The use of the KBYG curriculum in this context speaks to its versatility and underscores the fact that its curriculum is accessible for even the younger spectrum of backcountry users. And, by using major athletes and influencers in the winter outdoor recreation space and making the curriculum more interactive, the new iteration of KBYG aims to be even more engaging to young riders.

Keep reading: The One-Ski Set-Up That Takes Kids From the Resort to the Backcountry

The revamped KBYG program consists of a feature film, four short films, and associated discussion questions integrated into a presentation, a new website, and new online learning courses. All materials are freely accessible worldwide via kbyg.org.

“My goal with the program is to make it the starting point for avalanche education globally,” says Trent Meisenheimer, who is an avalanche forecaster and oversees special projects with the Utah Avalanche Center.

The KBYG curriculum centers around four steps:

  1. Get the Forecast
  2. Get the Training
  3. Get the Gear
  4. Get the Picture

The key learning outcomes of the new KBYG program are for individuals to understand the danger of avalanches, understand ways in which they can minimize their avalanche risk, and recognize the importance of avalanche education and how and where to get it.

“What really sets the KBYG program apart is that it’s your starting point,” explains Meisenheimer. “If you become more curious about avalanches, the KBYG website will lead you down a great path of online learning which should lead you to a local avalanche center, which should lead you to an on-snow avalanche class.”

The Utah Avalanche Center, Mammut, Backcountry, KUHL, and a host of other partners have helped develop content for this new program by working with athletes, avalanche forecasters, and other experts to help provide information in a way that is accessible and easy to digest across a wide range of ages and abilities. The new program content is packaged in a way that is conducive to use by Avalanche Centers and other educators/instructors across North America.

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A lot of riders don’t actually live near ski mountains or in places that offer avalanche training, making it hard to access on-snow avalanche education courses such as the AIARE Level 1 course. Yet these skiers may still spend days to weeks each year venturing into the backcountry. The digital KBYG platform successfully ensures that anyone anywhere can access avalanche education. Furthermore, the program’s emphasis on avalanche basics makes it relevant to riders at any point in their career. “Basics are what the vast majority of people need the vast majority of the time to stay safe,” explains Doug Workman, Avalanche Safety Program Manager for Mammut North America.

“KBYG is about us as a community. What we care about is that you understand that snow-covered mountains are dangerous and there’s something you can do about it: learn more about avalanches. You can start with KBYG,” says Meisenheimer.

Just a little bit of avalanche awareness can go a long way toward minimizing risk in snow-covered mountains. The new KBYG program serves the important role of making avalanche awareness more accessible in an interactive and engaging format. Individuals interested in accessing the KBYG program can find it online at: kbyg.org.