How do you know if you know enough to recreate in a winter snowpack without a guide?
There is no cut and dry answer but this Avalanche Skills checklist is a good start.
It can be risky business going out with confident friends. Choose your backcountry friends carefully! This is a critical decision. Don’t be cavalier. Who will you leave the trailhead with? This goes for skiing, riding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and ice climbing.
Bottom line – consequences are high. Decisions in the backcountry can be the most important ones you may ever make. The mountains don’t care.
To quote Jeremy Jones,
Some days the mountains are screaming “get out of here,” and some days the mountains are going, “come on in, it’s time to party.”
You and your group need to be able to discern the difference. It is never black and white.
Here’s a baseline list of skill sets I consider crucial for any recreational backcountry enthusiast, friends and partners included:
Avalanche Skills Checklist
- __I own and know how to use avalanche safety equipment: transceiver, shovel and probe.
- __I understand and I practice all my avalanche transceiver functions.
- __I know how far away from my transceiver I have to carry my other electronic devices.
- __I can check my partner’s transceiver at the trailhead and not miss any steps.
- __I know how to probe and I practice probing.
- __I know how to shovel and I practice shoveling.
- __I do two or three companion-rescue drills every winter.
- __I can find a buried transceiver in less than 5 minutes.
- __I can identify avalanche terrain on small and large slopes.
- __I carry an inclinometer and know how to check slope angle.
- __I know the correct answer to the following true/false questions*:
- __Avalanches can occur on slopes less than 30 degrees.
- __Most avalanches occur on slope angles of 36 to 38 degrees.
- __Lower-angled slopes can be connected to steeper slopes that pose risk.
- __Slab avalanches are the most dangerous type of avalanche.
- __Wind can increase avalanche danger.
- __9 out of 10 avalanches are triggered by someone in the party.
- __An avalanche-burial victim has 15 minutes before odds for survival decrease dramatically.
- __ I have bookmarked my local weather and avalanche forecasts and I read them.
- __ I’m unafraid to ask:
- __Do you have avalanche training?
- __Have you taken an avalanche rescue course?
- __What’s the plan?
- __What won’t we ski?
- __Can we agree to evaluate a slope before anyone skis it, even if we’ve skied it before?
- __If anyone feels uncomfortable with any slope, can we agree that we won’t ski it?
- __What’s in your pack?
- __Who has a first aid kit?
- __Do you have a working communication device, repair kit and tarp or emergency blanket?
- __Is your avalanche airbag functioning and is the handle ready to deploy?
- __I have visited Know Before You Go.org and watched the 15-Minute General Audience Avalanche Awareness video.
- Get the Gear
- Get the Training
- Get the Forecast
- Get the Picture
- Get Out of Harm’s Way
*(All answers are true.)
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