Avalanche Safety Course 2014

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Group photo - hooray for safety!
You have time to realize that you are going to die.-- Claire, on being caught in an avalanche

Interested in skiing, snowboarding, mountaineering and other winter backcountry activities? Thrilled by all the snowfall that is happening and want to get out there and shred some powder? And/or interested in learning more about avalanches and associated dangers/rescue techniques?

The Caltech Alpine Club has made has made arrangements for 20 participants to take a 3-day avalanche safety course with Sierra Mountaineering Center SMC. This will be in 2 parts:

  • Classroom session on Feb 28 (Friday) at Caltech after working hours
  • Fieldwork on Mar 1-2 (weekend) near Bishop

Application form is available here - you need to fill this up by February 22nd. First come first serve!


The course will be taught by SP Parker from the Sierra Mountain Center (of Bishop, CA). The 3-day course teaches skills necessary to make smart decisions in avalanche terrain; topics include planning and prep for travel in avalanche terrain, human factors, terrain recognition, “red flag” observations, terrain selection, travel techniques, basic hazard management, and basic companion rescue. There will be half a day of classroom training, half a day of beacon practice, and a full day of actual scenarios in the field. You will learn: how avalanches form and release; different types and characteristics of avalanches; how to travel to avoid avalanches; how to evaluate avalanche conditions in the backcountry; and how to rescue someone buried in an avalanche. We/SMC should be able to provide beacons for all. SMC taught our Avalanche Course 2007, Avalanche Safety Course 2011 and Avalanche Safety Course 2012 too.


Spaces are limited and time is short! We need everyone interested in participating to complete an application BY FEBRUARY 22. We will review the applications and select participants based on their level of activity in outdoor events at Caltech and on their level of activity in backcountry situations for which the course would be beneficial. Participants will be selected and notified by Wednesday, February 26; a waiting list will also be created. The application is a form available here.


The Caltech Alpine Club has negotiated a special rate for the Avalanche Safety course. The rate is $170 per person, which may be reduced substantially subject to approval of a Moore Hufstedler Fund grant. Even without the grant, this is an excellent deal so come out and take advantage of this awesome opportunity to learn all about avalanche safety!


There are several hotels in Bishop. The White Mountain Research Center offers beds (with linens, etc.) for $27/night/person (as of last year's course). Camping is a substantially cheaper alternative; though, one should note that the lows can drop below 20 degrees. Participants will be responsible for covering their own lodging costs; however, we will help to coordinate for sharing hotel rooms and campsites. Additional details will be sent to participants.


Don’t let not having a car stop you! We will coordinate carpools. Though the application asks if you are able to drive, your response will not influence your selection; we are asking now so that planning the carpools will be easier later. People are expected to give some money to their driver for gas.

If you wish to ski on this course...

Skiers or boarders would need: touring skis (either AT or telemark) or a split-board, climbing skins, lightweight boots, and poles. Other equipment that is recommended, but not necessary: ski crampons, goggles, and a helmet. A complete AT or telemark ski setup (no snowboards unfortunately) can be rented at Mammoth Mountaineering for ~$45 per day.

If you are renting from Mammoth Mountaineering, PLEASE try to do it the previous evening (i.e. Friday, they do it 6-8 PM).

For those who have never tried ski touring before, please be aware that you will be expected to be a *very* confident skier at a minimum. You will definitely encounter off-piste snow conditions and unmarked obstacles, and may encounter steep slopes and tricky terrain. If you have never skied in mixed/unpredictable snow conditions, please consider joining the snowshoe group. In other words, if you prefer "blue square" level runs at a resort, you are not qualified to join the skiing group.

If you consider yourself a confident skier, but have simply never used skins before, the learning curve is generally gentle and you should be able to pick it up. Fitness will be an important key for those new to ski touring, as making kick turns and skinning up steep terrain requires much more effort for those still learning the proper technique.

See Also