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Backcountry Safety Summit: Pro skiers and snowboarders talk avalanche safety

 

Skiers and snowboarders talk avalanche safety at Alpenglow Expeditions.
Sara Sheltz

Pro skiers and snowboarders Cody Townsend, Michelle Parker, and Jeremy Jones sat down recently with Dave Nettle to talk avalanche safety for Tahoe Backcountry Safety Awareness Week.

The event helped raise around $600 for the Sierra Avalanche Center through drink sales donated by Revelshine and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.

The purpose of the Backcountry Safety Summit was to bring awareness and collaborate on ways to inform the community on the importance of backcountry safety.



At the event the athletes also discussed close calls they had experienced with avalanches in the mountains.

Parker said she once experienced close encounters with many avalanches in just one day.



She explained that her group had downgraded their mission quite substantially as they had planned to go touring in the mountains and were also skiing with two professional mountain guides. But as they were hiking up, the weather had changed.

“The clouds cleared for all of maybe 10 minutes and that slight temperature change caused the mountains to completely erupt around us. I remember turning away, yelling ‘Avalanche!’, skiing down, spiderwebs everywhere, looking up, and when all was settled there were 12 avalanches around us…” Parker said. “…I let my guard down and there were just all these things looking back on it when I think about that day that had gone wrong to lead up to that point.”

NOTIFYING THE PUBLIC

Jeremy Jones, owner of Jones Snowboards and Protect Our Winters, said backcountry users often act as investigative reporters on the location of slab avalanches. As a backcountry user, he finds that avalanches tend to be in the same locations year after year.

Often, when people using the backcountry notice an avalanche or a weak layer in the snow, it is reported to the Sierra Avalanche Center. It will then notify the public on its website and many social media platforms.

As avalanche safety technology is relatively new, Jones threw out an idea for being able to find avalanche hot spots year after year.

“I want to see a compass rose that has aspect and elevation, and I want a dot for every time there’s been an avalanche on that aspect and elevation,” Jones said, alluding to a friend who owned a similar compass. “…every little dot was in one aspect, one elevation. So it’s really simple avoiding that little section of the compass rose.”

In terms of planning for a safe touring day, Jones highlighted the importance of planning for the worst and starting the day early.

He spoke of an incident that happened to a man in Chamonix. As a result of this incident happening late in the day, it took the man until midnight to get help. According to Jones, this is why he rises early whenever he goes into the backcountry.

“That means we’re getting up at 2, 3 in the morning to go… and that gives us this huge safety window. If you are going to get hurt, you want to get hurt early on a sunny day.” Jones said.

To conclude the event, the athletes recommended safety strategies to attendees such as taking an AIARE course, checking the SAC forecast, practicing safe habits on possible risk days by skiing and riding clean terrain that is under 30 degrees, and having good communication with partners.

To find out more information on avalanche safety and awareness, visit https://avtraining.org.

Elizabeth White is a staff writer with the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at ewhite@sierrasun.com

 


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