Avalanche safety starts with education
When Mark Smiley first appeared on Totally Deep podcast last winter, online outdoor education was an exception among scores of in person field courses. How quickly times have changed. This season, his online education program, Mountain Sense, takes on new relevance at a time when many things are virtual and we’re approaching what’s expected to be a banner year in the backcountry.
His latest addition to the Mountain Sense curriculum, A Comprehensive Guide to Avalanche Safety, is a seven-part course that features 70 videos amounting to seven hours of educational content. It covers a wide breadth of topics from foundational avalanche education, common avalanche problems, planning for a day in avalanche terrain, tracking snowpack, snowpits and choosing good partners. The course culminates in a 60 question “exam” designed to solidify concepts (it’s worth noting that the lack of evaluation was notable in Mark’s Ski Mountaineering Course I reviewed last winter. Glad to see it show up in this course.)
Smiley says that for most people, there’s a best case scenario, middle and reality. “The best case scenario is you buy a set up and want to explore the backcountry. Your dad or uncle or someone is this experienced high level backcountry skier that can mentor you one-on-one and can just take you out and make sure you don’t do anything stupid off the get-go…
“The next level down would be to take every single pro level course that you could in all different snowpacks and learn from a bunch of different people, which is really expensive. And then the course I created is an alternative to that. It’s similar to what you would get in an in-person course with my flair and personal experience baked into it and what you need to know to hit the ground running…My hope is that this helps a lot of people understand avalanches better, at their own pace, and just makes people safer out there.”
Throughout the episode, Doug and Mark discuss barriers to entry in ski touring, ways to avoid bad decision making in the backcountry, and the impending season.
“I think it all comes down to setting a clear expectation. If you have a clear expectation that it is going to be busier and that you need to try harder to get that alpine experience where you don’t see anyone else around, you just have to shift your focus to go deeper if the conditions allow.”
A Comprehensive Guide to Avalanche Safety will launch on October 13. For a limited time, WildSnow readers can receive a 30% discount if you sign up by November 13 using this code.
Like what you are hearing? Leave a comment below, tell a friend or two, and review us on iTunes.
Manasseh Franklin is a writer, editor and big fan of walking uphill. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction and environment and natural resources from the University of Wyoming and especially enjoys writing about glaciers. Find her other work in Alpinist, Adventure Journal, Rock and Ice, Aspen Sojourner, AFAR, Trail Runner and Western Confluence.