Lyndsey spent her powder day digging snowpits and learning avalanche safety.
UNLIKE ALMOST EVERY other Big Sky skier last weekend, I did not spend my Saturday and Sunday skiing the 25+ inches of fresh snow at Big Sky Resort. Instead, I got my face shots digging snow pits and practicing shoveling techniques in an American Avalanche Association Avy I course instructed by Tom Thorn of Big Sky Snow Safety.
But when the trade-off for your ski day is a deeper knowledge of the deep powder, you realize first tram is overrated, and the truly snow savvy don’t need to rely on an early alarm for fresh tracks.
Let me explain.
Yes, there’s the geeky snow science aspect of an avy course. It was fascinating learn about snow and how that frozen state of H20 falls and congregates to form an ever-changing layer cake we call our mountain snowpack, and how these layers represent stability or lack there of.
But it’s this kind of nerdy snow stuff that translates directly to the slopes, and there are fundamentals any passionate powder junky should be thinking about.
For instance, if I want to ski the good stuff, the more I know about conditions, the better - reading more than just the fresh inches on the snow report can enhance your whole ski experience. When you’re keeping up with the current weather conditions, the avalanche report, what’s in today’s forecast, and digging snow pits to check out the snowpack yourself, you can assess risk more affectively and also find the best snow. In my forecasting lesson, I learned how to look up exactly where the snow fell on the mountain, and on my 45 minute ski break during the field session at Big Sky Resort, I skipped the tram line to slay untracked knee deep powder on Blue Room.
But just finding deep snow isn’t enough – a good ski day can turn bad quickly, and you need to be prepared should something go awry. Besides knowing about snowpack, I need to know the condition of my avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel, and how quickly I can effectively use them. Vigilance and practice are key here, and I know that I will be checking the batteries in my beacon and taking the extra time once a week to stop in to Beacon Basin to race the clock with my transceiver and probe.
Friends are key too, because despite popular belief you really do need friends on a powder day. But choose wisely who you go with. The friends who I am thinking of traveling into the slackcountry or backcountry with- are they avy savvy like I am? What’s the plan, where are we going, and what are the safe routes out if it’s not picture perfect?
Here in Southwest Montana we are fortunate to have many great resources at our fingertips to help us stay safe in the backcountry. Ultimately it’s up to us to not let the stoke override our sensibility the next time someone in the Tram Line asks “Hey, you want go out the gate?” Think risk, then reward. If you’re avy savvy, the reward could truly be huge.
- Lyndsey Owens
Lyndsey Owens lives in Big Sky, MT where she rips the front- and backcountry alike. Besides being Avy Savvy, Lyndsey is also the reigning Big Sky Groomer Skier of the Year.
Backcountry Avalanche Awareness from Big Sky Search and Rescue on Vimeo.
Avy I students dig snow pits and practice using their tranceivers
Lyndsey uses a Tracker2 avalanche beacon