Blackbird Mountain Guides in Truckee, CA, is offering lift-accessed AIARE Avalanche Rescue Courses at Donner Ski Ranch this winter. These courses are unique in the area in that they utilize lift-accessed terrain for recreational avalanche rescue scenarios. Rather than practicing on flat ground, students will use more realistic terrain that will help them understand and optimize their position in the terrain. This more realistic practice will better prepare recreational backcountry skiers and riders for potential avalanche incidents they may become involved in. In a recent Ski Magazine article, Doug Workman, Jackson Hole, WY guide, and Mammut Avalanche Safety Program Manager, said most recreationalists aren’t just practicing too little, but they are practicing in the wrong ways, and he suggested taking the time to set up scenarios that challenge your skills and mimic a real rescue. Doug said:
“Walking around in a beacon park just isn’t a realistic scenario.”
— Doug Workman
Blackbird’s Avalanche Rescue Course program at Donner Ski Ranch is the only recreational avalanche rescue course that I am aware of in the Sierra Nevada that uses lift-accessed terrain. This allows for multiple top-down rescue scenarios where you get to practice starting at the top of the avalanche path, searching with skis on or board together. This gives you several opportunities to practice searching the way you would if your backcountry ski partner was caught during a descent. The venue at Donner Ski Ranch provides good access to several simulated avalanche paths that are very realistic and provide a wide variety of challenging search terrain for rescue scenarios. In a recent conversation with Zeb Blais, Owner and Lead Guide of Blackbird Mountain Guides, Zeb told me:
Lift access may seem odd for a backcountry course, but it makes a lot of sense. We need practice with avalanche rescue, not skinning. Lifts provide two major advantages for the Blackbird Avalanche Rescue Course. The first is that we eliminate approach time and maximize the time we spend on working scenarios. The second is that our scenarios are much more realistic. Our search fields are bigger and are performed on actual ski terrain, so rescuers get to practice the signal search, understand the importance of the search pattern and realize how the terrain itself affects the search.
— Zeb Blais – Owner / Lead Guide – Blackbird Mountain Guides
Blackbird’s AIARE rescue course will teach you about modern avalanche rescue technology, strategies for using your avalanche rescue gear effectively and efficiently, and companion and small group avalanche rescue techniques you’ll need if you are involved in a recreational backcountry avalanche incident. The course cost includes your lift ticket for the day (you’ll get a chance to get some turns in), as well as free breakfast before your class starts. How cool is that?
For information or to register you and your backcountry partners for this course, check out Blackbird Mountain Guides.