Backcountry prep: California Avalanche Workshop returns to Lake Tahoe Community College | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Backcountry prep: California Avalanche Workshop returns to Lake Tahoe Community College

Winter is approaching, which means people will begin breaking out skis and boards in anticipation of fresh powder days everyone hopes to have. With that in mind, there also comes an emphasis on responsibility and wise decision-making while in the mountains. All too often avalanches begin and many are not equipped with the knowledge of how to react and be safe.

To prepare winter thrill-seekers, the third annual California Avalanche Workshop (CAW) comes to Lake Tahoe Community College's Duke Theatre on Saturday, Oct. 15.

The all-day event has one simple goal: to share knowledge about backcountry snow traveling. It is simultaneously an opportunity to analyze past winters and accidents while learning from professionals in the field.

"I try to have some geographic representation — the eastern side and greater Mammoth area, up to Shasta — and try to have diversity in terms of a pro skier, avalanche instructor, a forecaster and maybe a ski patroller. People who are present throughout most of the backcountry," CAW founder and LTCC wilderness education coordinator David Reichel said. He organizes the event with Sierra Avalanche Center.

The workshop is something of an expo, featuring eight speakers. The day starts at 9 a.m. with a handful of presentations before breaking for lunch and finishing the talks in the afternoon. Following presentations, attendees make their way to the main lobby; there will be a variety of vendors set up for social interaction and networking.

Approximately 200 people are expected to attend the event, which is modeled after the International Snow Science Workshop and preseason avalanche workshops commonly held throughout the western United States in places such as Colorado, Montana and the Pacific Northwest.

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"It's a relatively small community, especially at the professional level. One of my reasons for starting the California Avalanche Workshop was to give additional spotlight to California-based avalanche professionals," Reichel said.

Topics range from avalanches and traveling safely in mountains to improving decision-making in the backcountry, risk assessment and more. The speakers include pro skiers, Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center representatives, forecasters and ski guides.

"I'll talk about an experience I had last year caught in a slide in the middle of a competition, my decision-making leading up to that and afterwards. Also how this relates to anyone in the backcountry, and each individual's decision-making process.

"Every time you go into the backcountry you are making decisions that can affect your life and your partners' lives. This is just a different perspective on decision-making and judgment. Maybe this will help classic Tahoe backcountry skiers to think outside of the norm," pro skier and Freeride World Tour competitor Hazel Birnbaum said.

Also presenting is Tahoe National Forest Sierra Avalanche Center forecaster Steve Reynaud, who plans to review past seasons and analyze snow pack.

"As an avalanche forecaster we focus on messaging. Most of our user group is used to skiing in a maritime climate. In this climate we deal with a lot of wind and storm clouds. They're used to this avalanche danger going up really high and coming down pretty quickly," Reynaud said.

The event is open to anyone, but according to Reichel, it is of most interest to people who spend time in the backcountry.

Tickets for the California Avalanche Workshop are $20 and go up to $25 on the day of the event, which is held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information and to register for the event, visit http://www.ltcc.edu.

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