AIARE Avalanche 1 Course With Northeast Mountaineering
For many years, Dave taught avy education for EMS and this was his first year with NEM and also the outfit’s first avy course. Besides Dave’s expertise, the greatest benefit of taking the course through NEM was the fact that on-site lodging in the NEM bunkhouse was provided to all students, which led to great group bonding, cost savings, and convenience. It was basic hostel-style living, but it was comfortable and clean. For the record, you can book a bunk there even if you’re not taking a course for $20 per night, which is a steal!
The Basics of Avalanches
The course began on Friday with a half day of PowerPoint slides, explaining the basics of the causes of avalanches, the different types, and some snow science. Then we headed out to Jackson Park to do some beacon searches in the snowdrifts. The most interesting aspect of this experience was a simulated companion rescue, in which we took turns digging out a buried beacon, pretending it was a person. If we didn’t already realize how much effort it takes to move several tons of snow in a short period of time, this exercise brought it home!
Trip Planning, The AIARE Notebook and Avalanche Tools
Day two began with another morning indoors, learning about trip planning and how to use the AIARE planning notebook. This little blue monster brought back bitter high school memories of exam blue books, and I know I’ll need a lot of practice to master the nomenclature for weather obs, snowpack assessment, and route planning. It’s a very helpful tool, however, and should be part of the planning of any serious tour. We also used some online tools, such as CalTopo.com, which is an incredible free service for viewing and printing maps that can include overlays to denote slope angles, trails, and other useful features. Dave is developing a webinar on this that should be out late spring and I think will be a very useful tool. He recommends printing (and laminating!) all maps, since technology is susceptible to failure in the mountains.
In the afternoon, we skinned down the railroad tracks from the Highland Center at Crawford Notch and made some observations of past avy activity and looked at some of the facing aspects to determine whether they were capable of sliding. Dave introduced us to some really interesting tools for the smartphone, including Mammut Safety 2.0, which has many avy-related features (and is free) and Theodolite, which is amazing in that you can shoot a photo of a slope and it will spit out a bunch of data on it, in real time. Dave reviewed these apps on his website here. These tools are not to replace map, compass, inclinometer, etc. but are very useful supplements to them!
We ended the day with some pit digging and compression tests. The highlight was the large fisher cat that ran down the slope next to our pits!
Tuckerman Ravine Ski Tour
Sunday, we concluded the class with a student-planned and executed tour into Tuckerman Ravine under adverse conditions! The high summits forecast was for wind chills of -50 and it was definitely one of the coldest days I’ve been in the mountains. After reviewing the MWAC avy report all weekend and based on the limited touring experience of some members of our group, we had planned a route to Hillman’s Highway. However, upon arriving at HoJos, we saw that there was some serious wind-loading at the top of Hillman’s and at least 7 people already hiking up a bootpack that appeared to be in harm’s way. We altered our plans and instead skinned up to a position in the sun partway up Right Gully, where we dug pits and saw some really interesting wind slab layers. Dave also demonstrated an extended-column test.
The finale of the weekend was, of course, the ski down from the bowl to Pinkham Notch VC. The Sherbie was in excellent condition, especially for early January, which I hope is a good sign for the rest of the season. We were lucky to have Brent Doscher, a professional photographer, along with us on this last day. Dave posted a short report with more photos on his blog (nealpinestart.com).
It was exciting to take this next step in my avalanche and decision-making in the mountains education, building on all that I’ve learned (and continue to learn) from AMC-NH Ski Committee leaders Jed, Marty, Tony, Thor, Valerio and others in the committee! I’m grateful to the SC for supporting this education and I’m looking forward to continuing to contribute to our annual avy awareness class long into the future! I highly recommend this NEM course to anyone who’s interested in an AIARE course. You can find more information here.
All photos by: Brent Doscher, BrentDoscher.com on behalf of Northeast Mountaineering
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