Since ski resorts across the country closed last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many enthusiasts took to the backcountry as a way to extend their season. Although resorts have begun to re-open for the season, the draw to the backcountry is still there for many—especially with new guidelines in place and limited capacity at resorts. As a result, many retailers are seeing a surge in sales of backcountry gear- items like touring bindings and beacons are selling out quickly. In addition to gear being in high demand, the call for education is equally high. The Colorado Mountain School, which provides AIARE 1 courses, saw their numbers triple for December enrollment. While in the last ten years the trend in the ski industry has already moved towards an increase in backcountry users, this year is seeing unprecedented numbers.
In order to accommodate the increase in demand, many avalanche education institutes are adding additional courses. The Colorado Mountain Club created an Introduction to Backcountry Skiing and Splitboarding as a prep course for their AIARE 1. They’ve also added an online avalanche terrain avoidance class for those looking to get in the backcountry, but not travel in dangerous avalanche terrain. Several other institutes, such as Friends of Berthoud Pass, are offering similar online platforms for avalanche awareness education. These online courses both help to accommodate social distancing requirements as well as the high demand for this education. In normal years, these courses can be found at many local mountaineering shops, and are usually cheap to free in comparison to a full AIARE 1 course, but don’t offer the same scope of education.
At least sixty avalanches have already been reported in Colorado to CAIC, with twenty eight occurring just between November 23rd and 27th. More than ever, new backcountry users are strongly encouraged to educate themselves not only about the risks, but how to travel safely and respectfully in avalanche terrain. In addition to identifying terrain and conditions, users are strongly encouraged to get familiar with their gear before going out with it. Anyone can buy skins and a beacon, but being familiar with every part of your backcountry set up and how to use it is just as important.
If you’re getting in the backcountry this year, either as an experienced rider, or a new one, make sure to get educated, check the forecast, bring a buddy, and all the necessary gear to have a good time and be safe. Here are a few resources we recommend checking out.
Even the most experienced riders aren't immune to unstable snowpack. Maurice Kervin learned this firsthand last Friday while snowboarding on Loveland Pass, his 65th day of riding this season. Kervin and his ski partners had been keeping a close eye on the avalanche forecast all week. Although the danger had actually dropped, Kervin recalls feeling unsure of the conditions. Intending to ski a line called 'No Name,' the pair set out, and tested snow stability along the way, not finding any red
Big waves are nothing new to surfers these days, but how about to skiers? California skier Chuck Patterson decided to combine two of his favorite things-- big wave surfing and skiing on some of Half Moon Bay's biggest swells. Using custom skis designed specifically for this feat, and taking inspiration from Patterson's late friend, Shane McConkey, they allow him to carve the waves as he would snow. Fitted with classic ski bindings, and worn with regular ski boots, the carnage if Patterson
Utah's snowpack continues to be unstable and unpredictable. Three snowmobilers experienced it firsthand while riding in Franklin Basin, Utah near the Idaho border last week. The three were out riding when one of them triggered a slide and was carried down to a tree well. He deployed his airbag but was buried under three feet of snow for around fifteen minutes before being rescued by his partners. While the rider was unresponsive upon being found by his partners, they were able to revive him