California Avalanche Workshop slated for Saturday in South Lake Tahoe | TahoeDailyTribune.com

California Avalanche Workshop slated for Saturday in South Lake Tahoe

Longtime South Lake Tahoe resident Todd Offenbacher will attend the 4th annual California Avalanche Workshop Saturday, Oct. 14, with a heavy heart.

Offenbacher, a Sierra Avalanche board member, adventurer and guide, lost a friend this past weekend related to a Montana snowslide that claimed the first life of the avalanche season.

"The timing for this workshop couldn't be any better," said Offenbacher, who has been backcountry skiing, climbing and guiding for about 25 years and has attended every workshop since it started in 2014. "It's early in the season and we've already had our first death. Now is a good time for a refresher on the backcountry."

The CAW is a preseason gathering of winter backcountry travelers to share knowledge, laugh, network and learn by studying past incidents. The seminar is modeled after the International Snow Science workshop and other regional one-day workshops throughout the western U.S.

The CAW, which runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Duke Theater at Lake Tahoe Community College, will feature speakers from different sectors of the winter sports industry.

"The California workshop is newer than others in the western United States and I started it to give a bigger platform for avalanche specialists," said event organizer Dave Reichel, who is the wilderness education coordinator at Lake Tahoe Community College.

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Offenbacher said Reichel deserves a ton of credit for organizing the event and gathering all the top professionals in one place. And Offenbacher wouldn't miss the event, especially after being involved in an avalanche last year for the first time while backcountry skiing a popular exposed line called The Cross on Mount Tallac, a 9,738-foot peak southwest of Lake Tahoe in El Dorado County's Desolation Wilderness.

"The first thing that went through my mind was 'F***!' That's what everybody says in black box recordings when they're recovered, right?" Offenbacher said. "I felt the whumping collapse, and I was immediately shot out of a cannon. I tried to get my skis off and I fought like hell to stay on top. It was violent and terrible."

Offenbacher wasn't injured, but was beat up. And also was embarrassed and ashamed afterward.

He went through all his assessments of his situation. He wasn't pushing his limits and was trying to mitigate the risks. But he knew he made a mistake somewhere.

It's important to share the experience and learn from it, he added.

"We need to put aside our egos and share the information so people can learn and be aware," Offenbacher said. "It's important not to be a community that shames accidents. We can all learn something from them."

Offenbacher will also be featured in a presentation at the event from first-time speaker Andrew McLean, who produces a show called Mountain Mishaps.

It was McLean, a 27-year ski mountaineer who details personal experiences with accidents and close calls in his presentation, who pulled Offenbacher out of a deep, dark, 60-foot crevasse last year in Svaldbard, an island north of Norway. Offenbacher was living on a sailboat and guiding for Truckee-based Ice Axe Expeditions and skiing on glaciers when he took his surprise "50 to 60 foot fall."

Somehow he wasn't injured. McLean grabbed a rope, strapped on his harness and belayed Offenbacher out of the hole.

"It's a great workshop, the turnout is great and the idea is to learn from mistakes of others," Offenbacher said. "There are no tests, just presentations. I like to look around the room and see who's there, see if any of my partners are there."

The cost of the workshop is $25. Participants are responsible for food and drink. Reichel said he expects about 200 people to attend.

For more information and to pre-register for $20, visit http://bit.ly/2wReUhk or go to the CAW Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/californiaavalancheworkshop.

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