[Snow Sports] (03/13/20 - 03/15/20) Taking AIARE Course in Mt. Baker, Washington

  • I took the "Avy 1 course" - officially called "AIARE Level 1" course with American Alpine Institute! The course dates were March 13-15, 2020 at Mt. Baker, Washington. 
  • Course link: http://www.alpineinstitute.com/catalog/avalanche-training-aiare-1/
  • Movitation
    • As I progressed in my snowboarding, I had been quite comfortable with trying side-piste, off-piste boarding and some tree runs. Naturally I began learning more about what real backcountry traveling was, and how essential avalanche training would be for that. I found backcountry to be pretty appealing - the uphill travel on snow and getting away from the crowd and all. 
  • Preparation
    • All winter, I was so split (pun intended) between choosing splitboard vs. skis for backcountry. I'm a boarder, yet it seemed unanimous amongst the backcountry communities and a few friends that skis were more versatile for traveling in the backcountry - especially with handling flats and varied terrain. At the end, I decided on skis and proceeded to practice skiing a few times to know that I can handle some blue runs. 
    • Equipment wise, I bought myself these beautiful pair of Icelantic Mystic skis (link), Lange Alpine Touring boots (link), some Shift bindings (link), Mammut Barrybox Beacon (link), Mammut Shovel (link) and Mammut Fast lock Probe (link). I bought the 320cm probe since the snowpack is pretty deep in PNW, and I bought the Shift bindings since I anticipate doing about 30-50% inbounds with these skis for the first few years.
  • Course
    • The first day of the course took place in a classroom in Bellingham, Washington. Our AAI instructors, Jim and Richard, were very engaging the whole time. We learned about different types of avalanches and conditions that induce them, different layers in snowpack and how they form, how to interpret avalanche forecasts, how to translate recent weather history into what the snowpack profile would be like, and how to evaluate different terrain while traveling in the backcountry. To me, the most interesting parts were on snow science (because I am a huge nerd) as well as how different meteorological conditions result in different snowpack.
    • The second day was field day. We went out to Mt. Baker and travelled not far from the parking lot to a gentle slope, free of avalanche risks. We shoveled up the snow to build a snow pit, studied snow layers and learned how to do snow tests for testing rigidity of layers. Then we practiced the essentials of avalanche rescue - how to use our beacon in order to find a buried victim, how to probe, and how to shovel. It really was shocking that rescuers had 10 minutes to uncover the victim for 50% chance of survival of victim. 10 minutes seemed all too short in order to execute all the steps - beacon search, getting a probe strike and shoveling out the snow (which gets increasingly hard with snow depth).
    • The third day was touring day. Our route started from the parking lot at Mt. Baker Ski Area and ended at the Artist Point with a clear, beautiful view of Mt. Baker. The uphill travel part was so fun for me - learning how to skin efficiently and getting some good exercise in. The downhill part was challenging - it was interesting for me to feel comfortable with the terrain mentally (since I know I can handle it on the board easily) but be physically challenged (on my skis). I will have to get better at skiing for sure.

Some pictures..

As Olivier and I drove up to the ski area around sunrise, we got some good views on the roadside.

 Me giddy with my Atlantic Mystic Skis

When we reached Mt. Baker on our touring day!

Olivier on snowshoes, with snowboard mounted on his pack

 Olivier is ready for some turns!!!

Our instructor Jim


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