This weekend I took the Mountain Madness Avalanche Level 1 course. I took it because the group I ski with has been in search of more fresh snow and skiing out of bounds seems like the most likely source. Being relatively safety conscious everyone thought it would be a good idea to make sure we were prepared before we hit the back country gates.
Before this course I was really only aware of two styles of skiing. Telemarking and downhill. I had sort of heard of Randonee / AT skiing but didn’t really know what it was. Not knowing about it I called and asked what I should do and the course leader convinced me to rent some AT skis. Boy am I glad I did! I discovered this whole new world of downhill skiing combined with touring. I never realized that you could ski up hill (using skins and free heel bindings) and then ski downhill on the same set of skis. It really is incredible. Unfortunately it is also expensive. Bindings are ~$400, boots ~$600, plus a pair of wide skis, ~$700 (I think I’m going to slap a pair of Naxo’s on my Monster IM88’s. Thoughts?)
Equipped with a pair of rentals I attended a lecture Friday night, then woke up early Saturday. I was a little nervous not knowing any one in the course and not feeling like I fit in because it felt like everyone there was way more outdoorsy then me and had summited all the local peaks. Fortunately, it turned out to be a good time. We skinned up the hill across from Steven’s, practiced searching with transceivers and dug a pit. After a full day on the mountain we had a few more hours of lecture’s in a meeting room at Steven’s. It proved to be a long exhausting day. I really cannot remember going to bed as early as I did that Saturday.
Needless to say I also had to get up at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday. This time we headed to a slope a little east of Steven’s, geared up, skinned up, practiced a group rescue (five people found three transceiver burials and two non-transceiver burials in fifteen minutes), did some route finding up the mountain, dug another pit, did an individual multiple transceiver search and then skied down. Unfortunately the snow sucked, too many hot days and cold nights.
Looking back on the course, I think the instruction was good, two days in the mountains was great but the problem is that I now know how dangerous the back country is and feel like I’m going to need sign-up for a few more courses to gain more confidence. I think the next courses I’m going to take are: backcountry touring and ski mountaineering.
…I really recommend the Pieps transceiver. They say that the best beacon is the one you practice with, but in the distance test the Pieps was tied for the longest, had no issues narrowing in on other beacons, and is able to flag found beacons when doing a multiple recovery. Also know that there are a bunch of other gear you need to buy: shovel at ~$50, probe at ~$75, saw at ~$50, backpack and on and on. Sure you save on lift tickets but the gear outlay is at least twice of regular downhill.
More photos on Zooomr, AviLevel1.