Are You Avalanche Aware?

Avalanche ClassHappy 2018 everybody! I’m so excited. It’s snowing.

As I watch the flakes come down, I feel a wave of joy. I want to run and shout, build a snowman, throw a covert snowball, and GO SKIING!

When I was a kid I dreamed of being a downhill ski racer, flying down mountain slopes. I was fearless and strong. Gravity was my best friend.

I chased my ski-racing dreams from North Carolina to the University of Vermont, home of many ski Olympians. But after a few years of over-crowded ski areas, I escaped to the backcountry where I found ice and alpine climbing. That’s when I discovered the pure joys of winter, where I feel the most at home in this world. I finished university six months early (so I could get on to what was really important!), moved into “Camp Subaru” and headed West.

A few weeks later I found myself with my newfound mentor, Lyle Dean.

Lyle and I were on skis approaching Liberty Ridge on Mt. Rainer when a thick fog rolled in and Lyle said, “We need to stop.”

I said, “Why?” We weren’t near our intended camp.

“It’s dangerous to travel in a whiteout.”

Suddenly, there was a loud BOOM—and I was falling.

Everything went white and silent.

I remembered from the avalanche class I’d taken from Rob Newcomb, that I should

SWIM. And, once the snow started to settle I should
MAKE A SPACE FOR YOUR FACE, and
RAISE YOUR OTHER ARM so it might stick out of the snow.

I kicked my skis off, let go of my poles, and swam hard.

Finally, everything stopped. Both Lyle and I ended up OK and on top of the cement-hard snow.

It turns out that we’d been standing on a cornice. The cornice gave way under our weight, and the force of us hitting the slope below started an avalanche.

They say that failure offers an enormous opportunity for learning and that good judgment comes from surviving mistakes. While that may be true (as long as you get back in one piece!), I’ve learned many things from mentors, partners and the courses and classes I’ve taken over the years.

So, I want you to do two things:

1) Click the link (Know Before You Go), watch the video, and share with all your backcountry partners
2) Take an avalanche course

Take a Chicks Avalanche course!

Chicks and the Silverton Avalanche School have partnered to create all-women’s avalanche courses taught by the most bad-ass, knowledgeable and expert women in the industry.

In December, despite no snow, the partnership launched with three super successful one-day Avalanche Rescue Courses. Check out Angela’s trip report to find out how in the heck you practice Avalanche Rescue with NO SNOW?

Also, Chicks is offering Avalanche Rescue and Safety for Ice Climbers and an AIARE Recreational Level 1 course.  If you want to spend a day learning backcountry ski skills or making the transition from downhill to backcountry, join us on our Intro to Backcountry Skills course; If you want to combine turns with avalanche education while staying in a ski hut (so much fun!), we would love to have you on our Intro to Backcountry Skiing and Riding Hut Clinic; And, if you’ve got the experience and mojo for black runs in the backcountry, join us in La Grave, France for Intro to Ski Mountaineering with 7,000′ couloirs and epic fondue!

Lastly, don’t miss the opportunity to sign up for the Subaru Chicks Jiffy Ice Climbing Scholarship, Feb 2-4, 2018.  Check the guidelines for deadline http://www.subaruadventureteam.com/home/womens-ice-climbing-clinic-contest

Hope to see you soon—and look out for snowballs!

Kitty Calhoun

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