Avalanche Safety Course – Sawtooth Mountain Guides

As the last leaves of fall give one last vibrant surge of color and the first cold snowflakes of winter begin to settle, a twinkle in every skier/snowboarder’s emerges in anticipation of another season riding. For some, their riding is done within the boundary lines of ski resorts while others choose to venture out into the uncontrolled backcountry. Those who choose to explore what the mountains have to offer on their own face the significantly elevated possibility of avalanches. It is up to each individual’s/group’s knowledge and experience to keep them from being another tragic statistic.

The backcountry has began to intrigue me back in 2004 when I was attending school at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. I spent the better part of my down time skiing up Little Cottonwood Canyon. Everyday that I was up there I would look across the canyon at the the few and far between tracks that etched the south facing slopes. I yearned to get away from the crowds and into the backcountry. A lack of equipment and knowledge kept me from satisfying that hunger.

Nearly five years later I’ve reached the breaking point. Fed up with $80 lift ticket prices and exposure to the limitless possibilities of skiable terrain here in Idaho and I am ready to begin learning what I can about avoiding avalanches and understanding how to act if they occur. I asked for help in acquiring a beacon, shovel and probe for Christmas and my birthday. My generous mother went above and beyond and made these tools a part of my quiver. In addition to all of this, she also signed me up for an avalanche safety class with some of the best guides in Idaho.

The Sawtooth Mountain Guides out of Stanley, Idaho offer a weekend long level I avalanche safety class at their William’s Peak Yurt located six miles into the Sawtooths. I was fortunate enough to partake in one of their courses this past weekend. I sit here today fondly recollecting my three day experience.

My weekend began well before sunrise on Friday morning as I ate a quick breakfast and packed the last of my gear into the car. It was 6:00 am when I departed from the Wood River Valley bound for the Stanley Ranger Station. A warm glow began to light up the Boulder Mountains as I crested Galena Summmit while the Stanley basin stayed in a slumber still blanketed with darkness. By 7:20 I had arrived at the meeting point welcomed by a brisk -6* temperature. I sat in my car watching the Sawtooth Mountains come alive much as the Boulders did not long before.

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Not long after and the eleven other avy students and I were  in the ranger station getting acquianted with one another and beginning our first lessons. With our first taste of avalanche awareness in our mouths, we headed out for a quick beacon test. Alive and peeping, we grabbed our packs and started out on the six mile trail bound for the William’s Peak Yurt.

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We made the brunt of our elevation gain within the first two miles. An open ridgeline gave us our first glimpse of the surrounding peaks.

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Four miles later and we arrived at our new home away from home, the Yurts. The main yurt offered up a nice kitchen setup, wood stone, three bunk beds, a gathering table and a Dewalt radio. While the first yurt boasted luxurious amenities, the other was a bit more archaic in nature, only provided three bunk beds and enough room to store your belongings. All in all it was a great spot to lay our heads. We welcomed a delicious spaghetti and salad dinner with a nice glass of boxed red wine. When our hunger was subdued, we directed our attention to an insightful lecture on the snowpack. Not long after and our heavy eyes welcomed the comforts of warm sleeping bag and a soft pad.

Even with a long rest, the morning still came quickly. We were greeted with scrambled eggs, hashbrowns and english muffins. Quite the gourmet breakfast to get the day rolling. By the time breakfast had been finished the sunrise broke over the White Cloud Mountains and lit up our surrounds.

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The remainder of the morning was spent going over recovery techniques. We honed in on our skills and were placed in real world avalanche recovery situations. The most realistic trial had us in groups of six searching for four mock victims spread out in a 500yd slide path. Statistics show that victims have a 90% chance of living if found within fifteen minutes. We were able to locate all of our victims within sixteen minutes. Not terribly bad for our first performance. This scenario was extremely useful in giving us a sense of how little time you have to react when a slide hits. After the drill we grabbed a make your own sandwich, some granola bars and fruit.

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Our afternoon was spent learning the ins and outs of snowpack testing. We performed compression tests, Rutschblock tests and examined snowpack hardnesses. It was a gorgeous day out touring. As the sun began to dip below the horrizon we were able to catch our first taste of some earned turns. Stir fry with chicken, pepers, water chestnuts, broccoli, mushrooms, jasmine rice and a thai peanut sauce was a welcome dinner after a long day. To top it all off a cherry cheeescake cleansed our palets before another interactive lecture began. Insightful information on route selection and case study analysis prepped us for our tour in the morning.

_mg_0656Our last morning was another beautiful blue bird day. I took the opportunity to grab a few more snap shots before the day got rolling.

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One last check of the avalanche report and we were packing for our full morning tour. We split up into three groups and headed out. The group I was in headed to a gorgeous place called Skier’s Summit. I feel that images speak stronger than words in for this leg of the journey.

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We made our way back the huts for one last lunch, a wrap up of the course events and packed our gear up for the decent home. Sawtooth Mountain Guide truly did an amazing job building my knowledge of avalanches. I would highly recommend this to anyone thinking about getting into the backcountry.

Big thanks to Kirk Bachman (Alpine Al), Michael Hatch (Thunder Chicken) and Clark Corey (Captain Coolio). You guys gave one hell of an insightful experience.

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~ by skier2435 on January 19, 2009.

9 Responses to “Avalanche Safety Course – Sawtooth Mountain Guides”

  1. your photography and prose consistently amazes and astounds me. thank you. I am very proud to know you and will be very boastful when you are famous. -Bart

  2. Thank you for your kind words Bart. I am happy to know you and am proud to boast of our friendship. Cheers – Ray J.

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  6. Like your site some very useful information for this tool and your post looks very interesting for me. Keep up the good work.

  7. […] Ray Gadd, who is a Boise based photographer, did a blog post on the Jan 16-18 course he took.  He has some awesome pictures…check out his post here. […]

  8. […] stories of avalanche fatalities put me on edge. Back in January of 2009, I took a three day level 1 avalanche certification class through Sawtooth Mountain Guides. They taught me the knowledge to make educated decisions and […]

  9. […] Image: https://rayjgaddphotography.wordpress.com/2009/01/19/avalanche-safety-course-sawtooth-mountain-guides… […]

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