It’s been a great morning of powder skiing at your favorite resort and the area is mostly tracked up. Your friend who skis at this resort all the time knows some “Sidecountry” terrain that is all fresh powder. He says you can hit some great terrain and make it right back to the resort.
The idea of sidecountry (just outside the boundary of the ski resort) sounds great, but “Sidecountry” terrain is really just easily accessed backcountry terrain. Ski Resorts do not patrol the terrain outside their boundaries for avalanche conditions and once you exit the resort you are responsible for your own safety.
The American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) provides the basics to be informed and make good decisions when traveling in avalanche terrain.
Do the Right Thing
Get the Gear: It might be tempting to step through the boundary to ride that panel of untouched powder in your resort gear. Don’t fall for that temptation. Make a lap back to the parking lot and pick up your essential backcountry gear — beacon, shovel, probe and first aid kit.
Get the Training: If you don’t have the training, go and get it. Take an AIARE level 1 course and learn to Identify Avy terrain. That means aspect, slope angle, terrain features, and danger level. You will also learn about decision-making and companion rescue techniques.
Get the Forecast: Check your local avalanche center to get an updated forecast so you know the danger rating. Use the advisory as your first step in understanding avalanche danger, and then use field observations and field tests to make your own assessments as you go. You can access the advisory by phone or internet at www.sierraavalanchecenter.org.
Sierra Avalanche Center is your local stop for information, educational providers in our area, and the daily forecast. We want you to enjoy your time in the mountains and be safe while enjoying some great snow in or out of the ski resort boundary. We also want to add a couple of ideas to help keep you safe.
Don’t Go Alone: All the avalanche gear in the world won’t save you if you don’t have a partner. Travel with a responsible and knowledgeable partner. Know each other’s limits. Communicate effectively, and practice safe travel techniques like exposing one person at a time to higher risk areas. Have one skier travel through potential avalanche terrain, while the other partner waits in a safe zone protected from avalanche danger. Wait until they are secure and are ready to watch you.
Focus on Decision Making: While many skiers focus on gear and avalanche knowledge as their backcountry skiing safeguards, decision-making is the first line of defense against being caught in a slide. Almost all avalanche incidents can be traced back to a questionable human decision. Keep a clear head about avalanche danger and don’t let powder fever cloud your decisions. Trust your instincts and avalanche knowledge when choosing what terrain to ski. Don’t let a partner talk you into skiing terrain you don’t feel comfortable with. Speak up and err on the side of caution, especially on terrain that you know presents an issue from the avalanche advisory, or from your own observations, harbors some avalanche danger.
~ Sierra Avalanche Center, a 501(c)3 non-profit is dedicated to informing and educating the public about backcountry avalanche conditions in the greater Tahoe area. Through a partnership with the US Forest Service, the organization provides a free daily avalanche advisory in the Northern Sierra Nevada. Sierra Avalanche Center is currently offering discounted lift tickets to raise money to support our program. Tickets are available on line at sierraavalanchecenter.org If you are interested in helping to further this great cause please contact us.