Avalanche!

How many of you reading this ski in the backcountry? How many of you reading this know people who ski in the backcountry? Trick question, if you’re reading this, then you know me, and I do that! It seems to me like sidecountry/backcountry exploring is growing in participants. Maybe it’s just because I live in Montana where people are the most stoked about neature and skiing and ice climbing and nordic skiing and and and the list goes on.

Seriously though, if 4 years in Montana have taught me anything, it’s that the people here are STOKED. It snows 3″ in Steamboat and the population’s like, “Ya…I’m still going to grab the GS skis for today.” It snows 3″ in Bozeman and people are like, ” Holy mother of any god you pray to it snowed! Let’s get up at 4:30am and GET AFTER IT WOOOOO!”

So. My point. This week a few members of the alpine ski team and two of my roommates (Una and Erin) and I took the avalanche class offered by the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center through MSU. It was two classroom sessions followed by a day in the field yesterday. The class sessions were long but so jam-packed with information! I don’t think I’ve learned that much from a class…ever. Plus it was so nice to take notes in English (seeing as all my classes this semester that I took notes in were taught in Spanish)! And ya, I took notes, ok? I’m a nerd. The field day rocked too, Una and I were in a group together, and our instructor, Bo, has lived in Cooke City for the past 10ish years and does the avy report for that area. He was ridiculously full of information but presented it in a very calm fashion, and was really nice. It’s such a relief when you’re learning new things to not be talked down to, I don’t think most teachers realize how much it sucks when you’re trying to learn from a condescending meanie. So the easy going-ness of Bo was awesome. We dug snow pits, did a bunch of different tests, practiced beacon searches, did multiple burial scenarios, Una even buried her leg so I could feel what a ski boot or thigh feels like when struck by a probe. We timed ourselves and all the searches we did were under 7 minutes–confidence boost!

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Una sawing the back of our block for a Rutschblock test.

Friday was the last day of classes for the semester, so I figured I’d risk being late to class so that I could ski Bridger! Going back to what I said at the beginning of this post, Bozeman dwellers, we’re stoked. So of course for this ski, Una and I left our house at 5:20am and had picked up everyone else, plus loaded them in the car by 5:45, destination Bridger parking lot. We made it to the top of the Bridger lift just as the sun was peaking up over the meowtains, and everything turned a brilliant pink. It was one of the more majestic acts of nature I’ve witnessed in a minute.

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Red Dog picking his line.
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Joe and me…I’m not not reaching into my pocket to pause Adele’s new album.

We made it back to the car by 8 and I was three minutes early to class! So for those of you thinking I was going to skip the last day of classes, think again!

Today Una, Christian, and Frank and I made plans to go ski Bridger again, the avalanche danger around here has been considerable since yesterday so we’re not looking to get crazy just yet! But then Una got home at 2:30am, Christian decided statistics were more important, and Frank was being super lame. CALLED OUT. No matter, I forced Una out of bed at 7am and managed to get her in the car by 8. She has been driving her Dad’s car since Thanksgiving, it’s a little Audi manual with 6 gears and lots of horsepower, so she straight sent it up to Bridger and when we got to the parking lot we were giggling like old ladies smoking weed for the first time. Hiking up we decided to ski the fingers because the wind was howling from the south east and they face north-ish and are pretty protected. On the way up I ducked into the trees to pee fast because another party was closing in on us, with me thinking, can you just slow down, you go-getters? Upon bursting out of the trees we realized one of the people behind us was Adam Pohl, so turns out there was a reason those two were hiking so fast. We hiked with them for a while until it got steep again and they left us in the swirling wind.

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Loving the fresh groomer skin track!

Through the wind we went! It was a howler up there, but Una and I continued our laughter even as our faces were getting stung with wind. I had my buff up around my head and looked like a straight goon, here, I’ll just add a picture so you can fully appreciate this.

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I KNOW I’M CUTE. But at least I don’t have wind burn!

When Una and I reached the top of PK’s (a lift) we scooted over the the bottom of the first finger and did some quick snow analysis and figured out the slope angle before decided to hike the rest of the way up and ski it. At the top we stripped our skins and Una did a quick ski cut for a further stability check and then dropped in. And the snow was pretty darn fantastic! Neither of us hit anything and the powder giggles ensued. Also some of you might be thinking, right on! they made informed decisions about where they wanted to ski! And others are probably asking why the heck we were so cautious, it’s just the fingers, right? just Bridger? No. You can never be too careful, and now that we have all these new skills, why not practice them? We had time and energy and we want to get into safe backcountry habits. If there’s one thing I learnt this week, it’s to make smart, informed decisions on where you are skiing, and why. It’s so easy to get into a headspace where you simply trust the other people in your group, you trust the snow won’t slide, you trust you know how to use a probe, you trust you won’t panic if something were to happen. But where does this trust come from? Never trust the mountains. They are stronger than you and don’t care how much experience you have, how much love you have for them, who you are or what you’re there to do. So don’t build up an ego, don’t give into peer pressure. Educate yourself and make decisions for yourself. Know what you’re getting yourself into. Practice with your own personal gear. How does your shovel fit together? What’s the smallest/biggest range on your beacon? How hard is it for you to unzip your pack with your mitts still on? Things to think about. Keep thinking people, our world needs it. You need it. I need it.

The last stop of our day, well second to last, was to REI to get real inclinometers/slope meters, instead of using Una’s app on her phone. But they didn’t have them. Bummer. We found some online though! And then, sweet, sweet LaPa burritos. Best decision of the day right there. And a great way to end a weekend.

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Holler at your Fatty Fitness!!

Thanks for reading, Earthling!

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