Local guides look to help beginners prepare for winter recreation

Granby Recreation Department, Fraser Valley Library host classes on winter recreation and safety

Joshua Nance, left, and Chris Olivier, background, who own Grand Mountain Guides and Two Pines Supply respectively, walk through the Granby outdoor sports store. The duo teach introductory backcountry classes together through the Granby Recreation Department.
Kyle McCabe/Sky-Hi News

During the summer exploring Grand County’s mountains can be as simple as hike on a trail in the sunshine — while some may worry about wildlife in the woods, most people don’t find it very intimidating. Once the snow and cold of winter comes, though, outdoor activities outside of resorts can pose greater danger and intimidation.

Winter wilderness exploration in the backcountry of Grand County takes knowledge and preparation. Joshua Nance, owner of Grand Mountain Guides, and his partner Chris Olivier, who owns Two Pines Supply in Granby, have a passion for the backcountry. Due to permitting and personal issues, the duo is not leading any outings this winter, but they are teaching beginner backcountry classes through the Granby Recreation Department.

“What we want to do is encourage people to go outside,” Olivier said. “That was always our goal with (Grand Mountain Guides). If we can help by guiding them or educating them, our goal is always just to get people to go outside and be more comfortable in the backcountry.”

Nance and Olivier encourage methodical preparation for backcountry trips. They hand out checklists and planning guides in their classes to help people be sure they have all the information and gear they need.

“If you take that very methodical, very thought out, checklist driven system, it should give you not only the confidence that you’ve checked everything off your list, (but) that you’ve done everything, that you have everything and that you have the best information to go out there and and have a good time and stay safe,” Nance said.

Information and gear represent the foundation of the pair’s backcountry teaching. The classes they lead focus on those two areas, with one called Intro to Backcountry Conditions and the other Intro to Backcountry Gear.

Nance said that “beginner” would be the perfect word to describe the conditions class because it is intended for people who want to get outside during the winter but feel intimidated. He said the class goes over how to plan a backcountry trip “from A to Z.”

The duo covers the topic of avalanche territory in the class. Nance said avalanches make people nervous because they are not sure when they are or are not in avalanche territory and there are places in the backcountry that are not avalanche-prone.

“You can go into Rocky Mountain National (Park) and hike up and down Kawuneeche Valley and you won’t be in any avalanche territory at all,” Nance said. 

While the class goes over how to determine proper routes to take through avalanche country, Olivier pointed out that it is not a replacement for an avalanche class, where people learn things like how to dig others out of the snow. 

The Grand County Library District is hosting an introductory avalanche class put on by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center on Dec. 9 at the Fraser Valley Library. The 3 p.m. event requires registration at and will feature special guests: the Winter Park Ski Patrol Dog Team.

If you go …

Intro to Gear Class

When: 6:30-7:30 p.m., Dec. 15
Where: Granby Community Building, 129 N 3rd St.
Cost: $10 per person
Register by Dec. 7 by calling Granby Recreation at 970-887-3961 or online at

Intro to Backcountry Conditions 

When: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Dec. 16
Where: Granby Community Building, 129 N 3rd St.
Cost: $10 per person
Register by Dec. 7 by calling Granby Recreation at 970-887-3961 or online at

Full Moon Ski and Snowshoe with Granby Recreation & Grand Mountain Guides

When: Monthly, next event from 6-8:30 p.m. Dec. 8
Where:at Two Pines Supply, 150 E Agate Ave.
Cost: Free
Register by Dec. 5 by calling Granby Recreation at 970-887-3961 or online at 

Know Before You Go Avalanche Awareness Program

When: 3 p.m. Dec 9
Where: Fraser Valley Library, 421 Norgren Road
Cost: Free
Register at

Fifth Annual Beacon Bash Colorado
What: Practice avalanche rescue training and beacon skills, check out backcountry gear and raise funds for local nonprofits.
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Dec. 10
Where: Winter Park Resort, 85 Parsenn Road
Cost: Free
No registration required; learn more at

As for gear, Olivier said they cover two general categories: basic gear that helps get people into the backcountry and fancy gear that keeps them extra safe. For some basic things like snowshoes or skis, Nance pointed out, people need to bring tools and equipment to make repairs.

“It’s critical if you break a binding when you’re 4, 5, 6 miles in, you’ve got to be able to carry that equipment to fix the problem so you can get out,” Nance said. “It’s not like being at the resort where you can just walk down.”

Some of the fancier gear includes transceivers, often called beacons, that help explorers find each other if they are trapped by an avalanche, as well as airbag backpacks that keep people above the snow if they are caught in an avalanche.

Nance said the gear class also covers how to dress for the backcountry in terms of how many and what kinds of layers to wear. They also talk about what kinds of first-aid equipment to bring along, but they do not go into how to use it. Olivier said he keeps repair tools, first aid and emergency equipment in a special bag he can transfer from backpack to backpack.

“I have a blue bag,” said Olivier. “… That’s the only bag I have in that color, and we kind of go through that … and encourage people to do the same thing.”

While checklists and proper preparation can help a beginner to go out into the backcountry, Nance and Olivier said going with a guide or a friend with backcountry experience helps novices have a more enjoyable adventure.

This year’s classes will be the third time Nance and Olivier have partnered with Granby Recreation. They emphasized that the classes are for all ages, saying they have had kids and grandparents take the course before. The gear class will be Dec. 15 from 6:30-7:30 p.m., and the conditions class will be Dec. 16 from 6:30-8:30 p.m., both at the Granby Community Building. Preregistration is required by Dec. 7 and the cost is $10 per person.

Nance and Olivier will also lead free moonlight snowshoeing trips this year through Granby Recreation. The first monthly event is 6-8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 8. Participants will meet at Two Pines Supply at 150 E. Agate Ave., which can provide gear.

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