Level 2 Tour Leadership & Avalanche Hazard

February 12-15, 09

Instructors Steve Conger, from Golden, British Columbia and SMG Winter Director, Kirk Bachman were joined by Zach Crist, Rob Landis, Sigi Vogl,Will Smith, and Joe Tobias for the Sawtooth Level 2 Avalanche Course. The 4-day program is geared toward experienced backcountry skiers and snowboarders who have years of field time and a current Level 1. This group brought the requisite years of BC skiing experience as well as bonus related outdoor experience, ranging from Forest Service avy forecasting (Will), Big Mountain Skiing Athletics (Zach), years of mountain guiding (Sigi), Outdoor program directing (Rob) and serious backcountry skiing (Joe) who also assists @ SMG.

The 4 days included field work in multiple complex rescue scenarios, snowpack study with an emphasis in performing standardized tests and snowpack analysis. With tours on both Galena Pass and @ Copper Mountain our group found remarkably different structure, strength, and energy (stability wheel snowpack analysis) in the two local snow zones to bring the topic of snow climates into focus with the Continental and Intermountain snowpacks 40 miles apart. Tours focused on pre-trip weather and avalanche forecasting on a daily basis with lots of opportunities to manage the tour group in challenging avalanche terrain.

Evening sessions explored how human behavior can create decision-making traps for tour leadership, also: more in-depth science discussions in snowpack processes in the formation of weak layer development; the role of spatial variability on slopes in the initiation and propagation of slab avalanches; & the mechanics of fracture.

Lots of time was spent mastering observations in the field and recording data at the ‘SWAG’ standard and using the field notebook. Fortunately, our field time dropped us into some great terrain for skiing, so some fun-times were mixed in with the education. During the course, light snow and facets made for great skiing, and are now the buried weak layer for another avalanche cycle in the wings a week later.

We received great feedback from the participants on the intensive learning style with a compliment of formal science and practical management of groups and decision-making while in avalanche terrain. Kirk and Steve have teamed up to teach this course for ten years. Thanks for coming down from Canada, Steve to join us in the awesome sawtooth terrain, EH!

Thanks for sending us some fotos Zach!