Since January 1st of 2015, five people in the United States have been killed in avalanches. Is it due to lack of education? Is it because of an increase of inclement weather and inconsistent conditions? Perhaps it’s because it has become easier to access the backcountry? Or is it simply because more people are trekking into the wild? It seems to be a mix of all of the above. Therefore, taking steps to be safer, more knowledgeable, and better prepared are key to preventing further tragedies.
As I read about yet another fateful rider, a patroller strolls into my office and invites me to a class she is going to put on. As serendipity would have it, the class she is hosting is a backcountry basics class for women.
Our instructors are backcountry enthusiasts and Tamarack Ski Patrollers, Erin Laine and Head Patroller, Heather Thiry. Erin began skiing as a wee five year old; she covered the whole spectrum, racing, big mountain competitions, and fell into patrolling and backcountry when she was 21 years old. Her passion, and what most motivated her to bring this class to all of us, comes not only from her love of the woods, ridges, and snow, but from a devastating loss. Her first patrol boss from Wolf Creek and one of the most influential men in her life, was killed in an avalanche. To carry on his legacy, from that point she set out to help educate and prevent more losses. Heather Thiry, was thrilled to assist with the class. Her passion for skiing started when she was just two years old. From moguls to tele skiing, “lusting after powder naturally led [her] to the backcountry.” She became a backcountry guide and volunteered as a patroller at Bogus Basin, a ten year career patrolling followed. Both of these women share a goal of helping the community be safer in the backcountry; training avalanche dogs and having classes like this one. Encouraging women to feel strong and confident in their ability to be safe and to say no to a potentially bad situation.
And so it begins.
The morning starts with a warming, yoga flow lead by former Olympic skier for the Chilean National Team and yoga teacher for Tantra Power Yoga, Daniela Anguita. She brings a passion for the snow, the mountains, and adventure — a passion we all share. Giggles and smiles spread through the group like fire. With Daniela’s exceptional skill and wit, each pose creates a stronger bond within the group. We come to a close, a blessing of snow, and with a namaste we go…straight for the coffee and donuts.
During this social break we get to know each other, are all introduced, and then come back to the topic at hand. Now we begin to delve into the class. The aim is to introduce many of us to basic concepts of backcountry riding and awareness, to pique our interest, and to refresh those more experienced in our group.
We learn what constitutes backcountry, types of avalanches, how they are caused, red flags, what to do if caught, and then we got techie. Beacons and probes, weather and avalanche forecasts, tools for reading the snow, we sought out beacons, dug pits, and learned to read the snowpack. There was so much packed into one day, just a dab of everything, just enough to keep us hungry for more. We spent a good amount of time in the conference room doing what women do best, talking. We weren’t being so much instructed as we were being led into an open forum. Questions, stories, hypotheticals were shared and answered. Through this open discussion we really began to learn while our guides prodded and corralled the learning. Out on the hill, it was a low pressure introduction to using beacons, probes, and working solo and as a team. On the ridge we watched our fellow ladies conquer the cornice and work their way through the mysteries of beacons and probes. We dug pits, learned about the snow pack, saw the red flags first hand, and laughed at our ineptness and our successes alike! Always in jest, always with love.
What seemed to be most beneficial was that it was all women joined together for one cause. We partnered up, we learned, shared experiences, and all grew together. We were reminded it is ok to tell the gear guy, the powder hounds, and Mister (or the occasional Mrs.) NO. And not a no that is only based on instinct, but a no actually based on valid reasons. We learned enough to know why no is no. Sometimes standing up to your significant other, brother, father, friends, and so on, can be difficult. We end up convincing ourselves we are wrong and do not know enough to challenge their authority, we are just girls after all. This attitude was acknowledged by all of us, all strong women in our own right, and one we must all change.
Beyond the backcountry, this class was about empowerment.
To all you ladies getting rad out there, know your mind, know your heart, know you are strong, and when no means no. You may just save your life and spare others.