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d.valiquett Author

Learning to Be in the Backcountry

At the beginning of every Avalanche One training class the instructors always ask, “Why are you here?” Almost everyone in the class answers with some version of, “I’m sick of lift lines and I want to ski some gnarly, waist deep powder and not die.” If you feel the same, a PRTS Avalanche Level One training course through the University of Utah will give you the risk assessment tools to ski the greatest snow on earth, keep yourself and others safe while in the backcountry, and earn credits toward your degree.

I caught up with Nick Rushford, who is in his third year of teaching the Avalanche One training course at the U. Explaining why this year has been dangerous for backcountry skiing, he said, “This year has been very Colorado-esque. We have had long periods of high pressure and a small snowpack. What this leads to isn’t bad skiing, but rather people being excited when it snows even when it’s not the conditions to be out there.” He adds, “The reason why we have had multiple avalanche incidents in Utah this year is because people have been putting problems and human factors on the backburner.” Human factors include cognitive biases like groupthink, sunk cost, expert halo, and familiarity. These factors affect our decision making, and not being aware of them can lead to death in the mountains. Human factors are just one of the many variables you need to consider while in the mountains. “I’m excited for people to get out there and learn more about this stuff in-depth,” Rushford said.

Photo by Samira Guirguis.

Not being aware in the backcountry leads to very real consequences. On January 26, 2018, a group of three experienced backcountry skiers went up to Big Cottonwood canyon and unintentionally triggered a 20” by 150’ avalanche. Reports say they had taken a couple of runs down the slope previously before the slope collapsed. One of the party members caught in the avalanche suffered a head injury and was airlifted out of the Wasatch.

If you have no backcountry experience, an Avalanche One course with Avalanche Rescue Training will give you the basic tools you need to be safe in the mountains. In the Avalanche One training course offered through the University of Utah’s PRTS program, you will learn about avalanche risk assessment, mental checklists, and how to perform an avalanche rescue. If you already have taken Avalanche One with Avalanche Rescue Training, Avalanche Two will delve deeper into the snow science behind avalanches and will help further hone your avalanche assessment skills.

Avalanches are predictable, and with the right training you can learn to mitigate risk, prevent injury to other people, earn credits toward your degree, and get as many powder shots as possible. To sign up for an avalanche training course, visit the University of Utah campus information services page, browse the course catalog, click on the PRTS course, and search for the level of avalanche training that is right for you. Stay safe, and happy touring.

d.valiquett@wasatchmag.com

Cover photo by Samira Guirguis. 

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Forecasting the 2017-18 Snow Season

Utah’s ski industry is looking for another year of record-setting revenue and snowfall this year. Last year, Brighton recorded 633” of total snowfall, and at the time of Ski Utah’s press conference, it was on track to match that. Since Utah’s ski industry has a huge impact on Utah’s economy, this is great news.

In 2016, Utah’s ski industry recorded $1.4 billion in revenue and $8.2 billion in tourism and visitor spending statewide, according to the 2016 report from the Utah Tourism Industry Association. That’s $1 billion coming to the state in tax revenue to pave roads, educate kids, and protect national parks. With all the exciting events and changes happening for the 2017-2018 season, skiers, snowboarders, and general Utah citizens alike have a lot to look forward to.

What’s New

Alta, celebrating it’s 80th anniversary, decided to get itself an early anniversary present by installing a new high speed quad lift to replace Cecret and the Supreme lifts. Now riders will be able to access more runs in less time.

At Snowbird, The Creekside Lodge was remodeled and includes new dining options along with a “boosted breakfast” to keep you going all day long. The Creekside Lodge is also a great place to grab a hot chocolate before heading back out to the slopes.

For those who are just learning to ski, Park City has installed a new covered chairlift designed to serve beginner runs.  The area will provide a comfortable and spacious place to learn and relearn how to pizza and French fry.

Upcoming Events

For the 20th year in a row, Deer Valley will be hosting the FIS (International Ski Federation) Alpine Skiing World Cup from Jan. 10-12, 2018. Come see future olympians compete for a spot on the Olympic team for the 2018 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea.

In the spring, Park City will be hosting the Spring Grüv Celebration which includes concerts and Pond Skimming.

d.valiquett@wasatchmag.com

Header photo courtesy Ski Utah.

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