It’s a serious topic when one decides to enter the backcountry. Whether you’re skiing, split-boarding, snowshoeing or mountaineering there is always the risk of your safety. So, why would you go out there blind? Leanne Wren, with Underground Snowboard Shop in Breckenridge, Colorado decided it was time to help people become more knowledgeable about what they are getting into as they pass through the backcountry access gates.
“Backcountry is all too accessible to people who aren’t educated about the dangers or equipment needed. I sell split-boards in the shop, so I wanted to also sell the knowledge of backcountry as well”.
And that’s just what she did. Being a Burton Girl Ambassador, Leanne teamed up with Burton Colorado, Backcountry Babes and of course with the support of her shop, and thus, the Backcountry Babes Intro Course was born. Ten women from all around Colorado came into Breckenridge last Wednesday to begin the course with a night in the classroom.
Self-accountability was the first topic our lead guide, Anne St. Clair, went over with us. We need to know what we are getting ourselves into, need to know that our partners who are going into the backcountry with us know what they’re getting into and how to get back out if anything goes wrong. This message definitely hit home as all the girls scooted their chairs closer.
We went over equipment needed, including but definitely not limited to beacon, probe and shovel. Also, how to use all of these toys that were brand new to some. Practicing with your tools before you go will help one stay calm if there was an emergency. If an avalanche happens, someone needs to take the lead.
“Even if you’re the least experienced doesn’t mean you sit back during a rescue, you may have to step up and take the lead because of the position you’re in on the mountain or you still have eyes on the victim”.
-Guide Kelly Rohrig
Next was how to properly pack our bags. Emergency equipment should be easily reached at any moment, snacks should never be forgotten along with water and always layer up. Thanks to Burton, all the ladies of the class left that night with a brand new backcountry AK 20L pack. Bright pink and purple to stand out and shout that the babes are here!
A lot of the information you gather about the zone of the backcountry you plan on going into happens well before you head outside. There are hundreds of websites out there to help start your journey, but you need to use them and be able to read them accurately. CAIC (Colorado Avalanche Information Center) is a great one to start with for those of you in this great state, but there are others such as NOAA and Avanet.
Here you can read the forecast of the day so you can steer clear of approaching storms, read the avalanche rating in your area (remember that the most avalanches occur in the moderate and considerable ratings so don’t just leave it to the colors before you go), type of snowpack and start to make a plan of the day.
Maps are an incredible help for planning your adventure as well, especially if you are going to a new zone, or a multi-day hike. CALTOPO is a wonderfully run site with free topographic maps of all sorts of areas. Google Earth is always an incredible site to get this visual information as well.
Our guides prepared a powerpoint with slides (no pun intended) of avalanche information and visual aids to help us pin-point the red flags of how avalanches occur, where they occur and how to safely pass through avalanche zones. Alerted that we need to realize that we are not that only ones out there and our choices will also effect others. Make sure you know that if an avalanche is triggered that it will not run down into a road, or if people are hiking below to wait for them to pass as to not have them fall victim as well if one of your awesome slashes turns into more than just a sluff runoff and communication is always key.
After the closing statements and and well thought out questions of all the participating girls we snagged the new swag, practiced packing and applying our skins to our boards and taking them off again. The next morning would be putting all this new information to the test.
We started early, meeting at Cuppa Joe Cafe in town to go over our plan for the day, which zones we would be going into, forecasts and of course an evacuation plan and a plan B. A lot of homework goes into this before you’re allowed to go out to play.
Heading up to the Baldy Mountain trailhead on a sunny, 40 degree weather day the excitement of the girls was electric and clearly contagious.
We all split our boards, laughed as skins were more difficult to apply out on the slope than inside the shop, but finally we were all put together and started up. Before the gates we all did a beacon check to make sure we were transmitting and were able to go into search mode flawlessly. Smiles never left for the duration of the day. Stopping to observe the snow conditions (a lot of dirt for the lack of snowfall recently and the heat wave), we could see our destination from the trail and were confident to continue our course.
Mid-hike we stopped to snack and practice a real search and rescue. The guides demonstrated by secretly burying a beacon off the skin track. By the top of the journey we were digging pits to see the snowpack conditions and see if it would have been a safe shred spot. The snow on Baldy was actually extreme unstable, but because it is such acute angle there was no risk of an avalanche so we continued.
The fun part finally came to us as we got to transfer back into a solid snowboard and shred one at a time back down to the parking lot.
It is great to know that I will be able to catch these signals and signs as I continue my exploration into the backcountry away from the crowds and lifts of the resort and only have me eager to learn more. Next year there’s rumors of an Avy 1 certification course. Stay tuned!
Words: Kelley Wren
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