Now our bellies were full and our brains were hungry for more.
After breaking for lunch, we returned to Travis Feist an AIARE Instructor with the Sierra Avalanche Center. He began by highlighting the major upcoming changes in Avalanche Education that are on the horizon for the 2016-17 season. As it stands today, avalanche training ultimately has 4 levels of training:
- Level 1
- Level 2
- Level 3
Based on the challenges seen in the industry and the drop off of recreational backcountry users taking Level 2 courses the decision has been made to divide the system into “Rec Level” and “Pro Level”. This will help make it easier for recreationalists to take effective level courses for their needs, while ensuring there is still a high level training available for industry professionals. These changes will allow users of all skill sets to get the education necessary to make better decision in the backcountry.
Forecasting Extreme Snowfall in the Northern Sierra Nevadas
We all know it’s important to be safe when venturing into the backcountry. In order to do so you need to take many different variables into consideration. One important variable is the weather. But how can we predict when one of those infamous Sierra Nevada storms that dumps 6 feet of snow will hit? Meterologist, Ben Hatchett from Powdiction, provided us with insight. His excitement and passion could be seen as he talked about what makes these extreme weather events. I consider myself to be of above average intelligence when it comes to weather, but Ben is next level! An interesting fact highlighted was that these storms typically happen in February and it needs to tap into the atmospheric river of the tropics. In order to receive moisture, Tahoe has to be on the north side of the jet stream. All in all the presentation was very informative, but the real question we all wanted Ben to answer was….is it going to be a good winter this year? It was evident this wasn’t the first time he’d been presented with this question. Like a seasoned vet he wisely avoided any predictions.
What if it doesn’t snow? What are your options?
Due to so much uncertainty over the last few years the topic of “Plan B” was presented. After so many years of terrible snowfall in Tahoe what is a backcountry enthusiast supposed to do? This is an easy question to answer…at least if your Jonathon Dove. The answer is head north to Mt. Shasta! Jonathon of Mt. Shasta Avalanche Center provided an entertaining presentation where he highlighted some of the cool terrain this giant has to offer. Along with this he warned that even though there is some awesome terrain to be accessed, Shasta also has the largest avalanche terrain in California. The images of previous slides were impressive and intimidating. While every backcountry rider should hit Shasta at least once, you have to do your homework. It’s definitely not a good idea to be caught out there during a storm.
Last but not least… the legend Kevin Jones
The California Avalanche Workshop was full of amazing presenters, but for me they saved the best for last. This presenter was a man that spent over a year’s worth of time snowboarding some of Alaska’s most challenging peaks. Kevin Jones is a veteran with twenty two years as a pro. During this time he’s lost ten of his close friends in avalanches. His recollections are mixed with many good and bad experiences in the wild mountain ranges all over North America. Kevin’s opener was very engaging. He said, “Avalanche safety is like being on a diet.” With blank stares in the crowd he could see that no one understood what he meant. Interestingly enough, it made sense. First when starting on a diet your very strict on what you eat and how much you exercise. Over time you begin to get lazy and have a slice of pizza or some French fries. This concept is similar with avalanche training. At the beginning of the ski/snowboard season you are very strict on preparation and confirming that everyone has their equipment ready and in good shape. Over the course of the season people begin to get lazier and lazier. It’s human nature. We develop a false sense of security. The second point was all about group dynamics. It isn’t just the time you are spent out in the mountains. It’s a combination of everything that happened that morning and maybe even that evening which could cause problems later in the day. For example, instead of focusing on the task at hand your mind is still focusing on arriving late to the mountain because your friend got into a fight with girlfriend or they overslept. Ultimately, bad decisions are being made even before you step out the door. Many thoughts go into weather, snow conditions and equipment. Group dynamics are just as important if not more so, because losing your focus can lead to big consequences later on even if everything else lines up perfectly.
This workshop was a great refresher for the experienced and a great introduction for a novice. It is eye opening on just how dangerous the mountains can be. This event is quickly gaining momentum. With more backcountry users at this second annual it will only continue to grow. If you missed it, be sure to mark your calendars for next year. The California Avalanche Workshop is very informative and fun.