Over the weekend of March 9th to March 11th 8 of our JHSC Athletes attended the inaugural Jackson Hole Ski & Snowboard Club Avalanche 1 Course conducted by the American Avalanche Institute (AAI) and accompanied by Freeski Coach Kevin Bradford. Our guides Brendan Cronin and Aaron Diamond were amazingly knowledgable and did a great job bringing a huge amount of information to our athletes in an understandable format. Attending athletes were skiers Juliana Guttierez, Tommy Berner, James Stafford, Jackson Santomauro, Jeremy Emmer, Alex Coosaia, Jake Coosaia and snowboarder Collin Schubert.
Day 1 started with 4 hours of classroom time at Snow King. We began by going over a few scenarios that had tragic endings to set the tone for a weekend of learning and humility. After analyzing the decision making processes involved in skiing the backcountry, we took the afternoon to practice beacon searches, probing and strategic shoveling in the BCA Beacon Park at the base of Snow King. Everyone showed a great foundation for these skills and we ended the day eager to learn more.
Day 2 was the much anticipated ski touring day on Teton Pass. We awoke to 4 inches of fresh powder and sunny skies! After going over our plan for the day and checking the functionality of our beacons, we set off in 2 groups from the top parking lot at Teton Pass and toured south along Pass Ridge towards Olympic Bowl. After a brief discussion, we made some fresh turns through the trees and found a nice spot to dig a snow pit from which we could do stability tests. We learned 3 basic stability tests, the shear test (ST), the compression test (CT) and the extended column test (ECT). Combining this with a hand hardness test allowed us to get a comprehensive look at the snowpack and apply a scientific method to assessing its stability. After our stability tests everyone had the opportunity to break trail back to the car, in the process we learned where and how to set a skin track in the backcountry.
Day 3 was about bringing it all together and applying it to our decision making. We began with an informative presentation on the human factors that lead to avalanche accidents. This gave everyone something to think about during lunch, after which we discovered that we had a mock avalanche scenario outside. Everyone geared up to head over to the "accident" and we discovered that we had 3 "victims" and one very disoriented Brendan Cronin, who gave us the information we would need to "rescue" everyone. Teamwork was the name of the game here, and older athletes took charge, delegating responsibilities to their younger partners while leading the beacon search as well. Everyone involved showed that they had learned the skills needed and they were able to extricate all 3 "victims" in a respectable time of 10 minutes. Afterwards, due to all the excitement, AAI Guide Aaron Diamond "collapsed" and required us to load him on a backcountry rescue sled to transport him to a better location. Again, older athletes took charge and delegated responsibilities to their younger teammates and we were able to drag Aaron across the snow all the way to Snow King Drive.
The 2nd half of Day 3 took place on top of Snow King, where the athletes were tasked with digging their own snow pits and doing their own stability tests. We found very unstable snow here compared to Teton Pass, and everyone was able to see what faceted snow looks like under a magnifying loupe. For the final hour of our class Aaron presented us with 5 different ski touring plans that included such factors as partners, objectives, weather and snow stability. The athletes were then asked to answer "GO" or "NO-GO" based on all this information. It was this exercise that really challenged everyone to use all the skills they had learned over the 3 day course and apply it to serious decisions. Everyone showed an excellent understanding of the factors involved in these decisions and made informed arguments supporting their opinions.
A huge thanks goes out to JHSC Alpine Coach Lindsay Mann and AAI owner Sarah Carpenter for putting this course together. JHSC would also like to extend a thank you to our very knowledgable guides Brendan Cronin and Aaron Diamond for presenting all this information in a way that was understandable and relatable to our athletes. Lastly, a big thanks goes out to Wilson Backcountry Sports and Teton Backcountry Rentals for giving our athletes discounts on ski touring and avalanche gear. We are all very excited to make this Avy 1 Course a yearly option for all JHSC Athletes at an affordable rate!