I’ve been backcountry skiing in Rocky Mountain National Park for about a year now. My first foray was a wonderful birthday triathlon. I got my touring set-up and began last February, about a month before the park shut down with the onset of COVID. I stuck to Hidden Valley, as I had been told it was safe from avalanches, and mainly toured around below the road, often dipping into the trees. It was lovely, and though quite different from a day of lift-serviced skiing, something I quickly got “in to.” Buying gear, doing research on new places to explore, and often watching ski mountaineering video series. However, a large barrier loomed in expanding my backcountry travel, avalanche education. Avalanches can be deadly, destructive events and need to be taken seriously. Education on the topic is paramount when venturing into the winter backcountry, no matter the mode of travel.
For some reason, there was a certain level of nerves signing up for an avalanche course. I’ve known a person who almost completely dropped the sport after their learnings. I know you’re more likely to die in an avalanche after taking these courses. I liked Hidden Valley, and considered confining my backcountry skiing to that playground. In the end, I saw an Insta post for a deal on some last-minute spots available at a discounted price, for a Rec 1 Avalanche Course with Kent Mountain Adventure Center.
Due to COVID (too many sentences start that way these days), there was an initial virtual learning course, in place of a normal day of classwork. It took 2-4 hours, depending on how deep you pored over the materials. Then, the night before the fieldwork we met, virtually, for a quick get-to-know-you session and general layout of what the next two days would bring.
It was a chilly two days in the field, but engaging learning opportunities, well-timed touring, and full thermoses kept us warm. We learned some snow science, terrain management, how to prepare for a tour and debrief afterward.
Overall, I came away with the skills to avoid avalanche terrain, and explore the backcountry more safely. I’m grateful for my guides/educators and am so glad I took the class. I can continue to explore Hidden Valley with peace of mind, and have the tools to look at exploring other areas now too.