Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Learn snow skills for survival

Express Staff Writer

Ullr, the Norse God of skiing, glissades any slope undaunted like the ghost riders of Rogers Pass in the Selkirk Mountains, of British Columbia, Canada, a land of epic powder. But, for the rest of us mere mortals who trudge into the Pioneer, Boulder, Smoky and Sawtooth mountains for a few fresh tracks as weekend warriors, there is much to learn before the spring season of Hawaiian shirts and mid-morning corn.

The anticipation of arcing through knee-deep creamy fluff can be unbearable. But, it's best to start on rock skis and think about the thinner snow pack as a chance to hone avalanche and rescue skills, rather than huck the first steeps in sight. Skinning up Bald Mountain can do more than simply tease the powder hound. On an early-season morning an in-bounds tour, as it exposes fitness levels, can also be an opportunity to hone rusty backcountry travel skills.

Some backcountry enthusiasts use the relatively safe terrain of the Sun Valley ski area as a chance to test gear or stash an avalanche beacon for a crash search and rescue exercise.

Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center Director Janet Kellam says early-season snows and following cumulative avalanche and weather advisories posted at provide a primary education and help to hone a winter adventurer's avalanche antenna.

A thinking cap and a few reminders about safe winter travel should make for a bountiful season of skiing.

"The Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center is offering several three-hour Avalanche Basics classes this winter. The first program will be Tuesday evening, Dec. 6, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Hemingway Elementary School in Ketchum," Kellam said. "(There is) no need to sign up in advance, just show up."

The same program will be offered Jan. 3, 2006, in Hailey, at the Community Campus from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. An Avalanche Basics program will be offered to the community of Stanley at the Community Center, Friday, Feb. 10.

"We live in the mountains and avalanches are a natural occurrence," Kellam said. "Backcountry enthusiasts of all types travel in avalanche terrain and are exposed to avalanche danger. Get avalanche smart. Attend a class, call the avalanche advisory, learn how to tell when it is safe to ride the steep slopes and when it is not.

"Do you know how to perform an avalanche rescue if someone in your group were buried in an avalanche? Fully buried victims recovered in the first 15 minutes have a 92 percent chance of survival as long as they have not been subjected to serious trauma from hitting trees or other obstacles. After 35 minutes that percentage drops to a bleak 27 percent survival rate. Obviously, the best course of action is not to get caught to begin with, but if you carry proper rescue gear and know how to use it in a crisis situation, you and your partners stand a good chance of surviving."

Avalanche classes cover important points of what to do if someone is caught in an avalanche and how to use rescue gear, Kellam said, recommending that winter-sports enthusiasts looking to find rescue gear check with snowmobile and outdoor merchants. "Learn how to use it. Practice with it."

Backwoods Mountain Sports in Ketchum offers free avalanche beacon clinics every Thursday at 3 p.m. at the north end of the city's Park & Ride Lot starting Dec. 1.

Check the avalanche advisory for current avalanche and mountain weather conditions, upcoming classes and avalanche-related events. More information is available at 622-8027 or

Avalanche classes

Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center

This year, the Avalanche Center is offering Avalanche Basics, Avalanche Basics for Snowmobilers , Field Sessions and Avalanche Awareness 1-hour Classroom Sessions throughout the winter in Ketchum and Hailey.

To register or get more information, call 622-0095 or check on-line at Avalanche Center's Web site --

Sawtooth Mountain Guides

Sawtooth Mountain Guides is teaching a Level I Backcountry Skier and Snowboarder Avalanche Safety Course, and a Level II Tour Leadership and Avalanche Hazard Course in and around the Stanley Basin. For more information on course reservations and signup, contact Sawtooth Mountain Guides at (208) 774-3324, e-mail, or visit

Sun Valley Trekking

Sun Valley Trekking is teaching Level I Avalanche Awareness courses for Backcountry Skiers and Snowboarders, a Level II Avalanche Awareness for Backcountry Skiers and Snowboarders course, a Backcountry Glisse Intensive course and leading "Wild Snow" and "Chix on Stix" programs. For more information on course reservations contact Sun Valley Trekking at (208) 788-1955, or visit

Weather and snow conditions

Advisories are posted by the Sawtooth National Forest Avalanche Center: A recorded advisory is accessible on the center's phone hotline: 622-8027.

For Idaho road reports, go to:

To share backcountry observations, fill out an observer form available on the Avalanche Center's Web site or call 622-0099.

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