|The members of the AAI AIARE Level II course psyched to be out in beautiful snowy conditions! (A. Stephen)|
Over the last four days I was fortunate enough to be a student in a Level II AIARE course, taught by American Alpine Institute instructors Cliff Palmer and Richard Riquelmie. For those who don't know, AIARE (the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education) is the foremost organization for snow education and avalanche awareness in the U.S. AIARE has designed three courses (Level I, II, and III) for backcountry travelers hoping to increase their knowledge, and improving their safety margins in avalanche terrain. Level I is focused on basic interpretations of weather data and snowpack, terrain selection, and rescue protocols. Level II begins to step into snowpack analysis, detailed weather data interpretations, heuristic factors, and multiple burial recoveries. As our instructor Richard put it, in Level II, we learn "now-casting."
|Tools of the Trade: a thermometer, magnifier, and crystal |
card are used to gather key data points about the snowpack. (A. Stephen)
|Digging some hasty pits to quickly examine how well the new snow is bonding|
to existing layers on one of our snowier days (A. Stephen)
|"This is snow!" Richard explaining the properties of some freshies. (A. Stephen)|
The last day of the course it was snowing heavily and nwac.us forecasted considerable avalanche danger for the day. I had never been out on a day with considerable danger, but with Cliff and Richard's expertise and careful route selection we were able to make it to Artist Point (around 5,000 ft of elevation in the Baker backcountry), where we dug some data pits and were able to examine first-hand where the weaknesses in the snowpack were, and why considerable danger had been forecasted.
As we descended back to the cars, we were able to get a few turns in some of the best powder we had skied all year in the NW. As Cliff remarked, it may have been the best skiing we will get all year short of going to Japan! The AIARE Level II course was eye-opening, empowering, taught by two expert snow professionals, and with practice and experience, it set me up to get there one day as well. I would highly recommend any winter backcountry traveler become involved in the AIARE programs, and what better place to do it than in the (usually) epic snows of the Mt. Baker area. For a list of AIARE programs offered by AAI, click here.
|A student preparing a stability test in a data pit (A. Stephen)|
--Andy Stephen, Instructor and Guide