February 25, 2014 Avalanche Education, Backcountry Skiing, InternationalWhew. The first half of the winter is done and gone – where did it go? Read to find out, or skip ahead to the photos!Avalanche EducationWe taught a record number of avalanche courses so far this winter – eight AIARE Level 1s and an AIARE Level 2. Backcountry skiers and riders are hungry for avalanche education, and who can blame them? Skiing in the backcountry comes with risk, and we all need to learn to minimize it so we can enjoy a lifetime of faceshots. We love teaching Level 1s because these courses truly teach the life-saving skills that every skier and rider needs. Rather than delve into snow science factoids, we focus on a framework for making good terrain decisions.Continuing EducationChris headed to Salt Lake City for a 12-day American Mountain Guides Association Ski Guide Course – the first step in becoming an AMGA Certified Ski Guide. While it came during a busy time, it’s always good to get out of our little microcosm and see things from a different perspective. SMG strongly believes that AMGA training and certification is a critical element in being a professional guide, and all of our ski guides are either certified or in the midst of the process.Additionally, we hosted a week-long AIARE Level 3 at Smiley Creek Lodge. Erik helped teach this program along with Canadian avalanche wizard Colin Zacharias and fellow IFMGA guide Margaret Wheeler. This is a professional level course geared towards guides, patrollers, and forecasters that teaches avalanche hazard assessment from the standpoint of professional risk management. Chris and Sara took the course to fulfill requirements for teaching AIARE Level 2 courses and enjoyed seeing things from a student perspective for a change!JapanWhile we were in the throes of nonstop avalanche education, SMG guide Marc Hanselman snuck off to the Land of the Riding Sun and Cold Smoke. Taking clients to Japan is becoming an annual pilgrimage for Marc, and the photos make it easy to see why!Finally…Snow, and LOTS of it!It’s no secret that the winter began lean. Feast and famine is a common theme in our area, but was taken to an entirely different level this winter. Starting in early February, it began snowing and didn’t stop until just recently. The Galena Summit area picked up 4-5′ of snow, with 6+’ in the Sawtooths and Banner Summit zones. The Williams Peak Hut had a rare unoccupied night during the peak of the storm cycle, and was nearly buried! The snow stake at the Williams Peak Hut now reads around 8′, and digging snowpits in our avalanche courses is no longer a trivial task.What Next?There’s a deep snowpack in the mountains, lines are filling in, and we’re looking forward to a promising second half to the winter. As the avalanche conditions slowly begin to stabilize, we’ll continue to enjoy mellow powder but are beginning to dream about late winter high mountain exploration…and our Spring Ski Mountaineering Camp!