Macleod : Venturing into the backcountry
Five years ago, I moved to the Fraser Valley with one simple goal in mind: snowboard as much as humanly possible. And while I’ve held true to this notion, I’ve also managed to confine myself to the lifts and trails of Winter Park Resort. Sure, I’ve logged some day trips to neighboring ski areas and even extended trips to neighboring states, but the fact is, I’ve yet to venture outside of the ski resort boundaries.
This year, I was ready to change that. I was going to buy a beacon, shovel, probe, splitboard – the whole nine yards. The problem was, I had no idea what to do with any of it. The other problem was I didn’t know anyone else who had any idea what to do with it. I won’t point any fingers, but I think we all know a number of people who are a little less than responsible when it comes to venturing in the backcountry. Drive over Berthoud Pass on any snowy day, and you can bet there are some of these cowboys playing Russian roulette with the mountains and their own well-being.
I wasn’t going to be one of those people.
Lucky for me, the Grand Huts Association and the Fraser Valley Recreation District collaborated to offer an overnight avalanche awareness class on Jan. 7 at the Broome Hut on Second Creek. Led by longtime backcountry enthusiast Bill Ross, the course would not only refresh individuals with prior backcountry knowledge, but it would also help to provide a starting off point for those such as myself.
With close to 30 years of avalanche instructing experience, Ross covered everything from general communication and emergency preparedness, to snow stability tests and proper beacon usage. The majority of the course was hands-on fieldwork, with students splitting into small groups to perform various rescue scenarios throughout the day.
And while I can confidently say that I am now much more knowledgeable and prepared for entering the backcountry, I also know that this is only the beginning.
“Keep learning,” said Ross at the close of the course. “This is not the end of the class.”
And for me, that was the biggest takeaway. We are incredibly fortunate to have the backyard playground that is Berthoud Pass at our fingertips, but it cannot be taken lightly. The mountains are a powerful force, and Ross made it clear that it demands our respect.
“I don’t think of myself as an avalanche expert,” he remarked. “But even if I did, the mountain doesn’t know that.”
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