A great educational service available through Flathead Valley Continuing Education and the Flathead Avalanche Center is avalanche training for both beginners and experienced backcountry explorers, whether you are on skis, snowshoes, or snowmobiles. I took the Introduction to Avalanches class recently, which consists of three hours of classroom training and a day of field training at the top of Whitefish Ski Resort.
Left: Digging out a (practice) victim
Our instructors, Jenny and Zach are genuine avalanche experts and great teachers to boot. At Whitefish Mountain, we first practiced beacon-directed rescue in the beacon park, which is free for anyone to train on. After that, we practiced locating mannequins, both with and without beacons.
Finally, we dug pits on both the North and South sides of the mountain and evaluated the layers of snow for avalanche risk. I was grateful that my fellow class members managed to hold back their laughter when watching me ski around at the top of the mountain.
Right: Zach demonstrating an Extended Column Test, which can help predict both avalanche fracture initiation and fracture propagation risk.
If you spend any time in the backcountry in winter, please, please take one of these excellent avalanche courses. Also, check out the Flathead Avalanche Center Website (flatheadavalanche.org) and follow them on Twitter for timely snow condition and avalanche risk updates.