At last weekend’s Ouray Ice Festival Peak Mountain Guides’ staff member Matt Wade and program sponsor Backcountry Access put on two free clinics titled “Avalanche 101 For Climbers”. The clinics introduced participants to factors that contribute to avalanche hazard on backcountry ice climbs and they learned specific techniques for managing risk in a climbing context.
The world famous Ouray Ice Festival
Using local backcountry ice climbing routes as case studies, the group learned to evaluate a variety of avalanche dangers that could be encountered on a backcountry ice climb. For example, they learned how to assess the danger from slab formation on approach aprons, how to manage the risk of loose snow slides that could knock a leader off a pitch, how to assess the danger presented by a large snow bowl above a route, and how to assess walk-off descents for avalanche danger before actually arriving there.
After a lively discussion about managing avalanche danger in the context of backcountry ice climbing, the groups went outside to learn companion rescue fundamentals. Participants learned how to conduct a quick and efficient companion rescue using a beacon, shovel, and probe. They learned practical techniques for each phase of the rescue including an efficient beacon search pattern, a reliable probing method, and an energy-conserving method for shoveling called “strategic shoveling”.
The clinic participants were very appreciative of the new skills they learned and there were some good discussions about the unique avalanche issues that ice climbers face. One clinic participant, a climber from Arizona who commonly climbs in the San Juans, had this to say after the clinic: “The clinic was really informative and useful. The way you related avalanche awareness to ice climbing situations was really valuable. Thank you.”
Thanks again to BCA for sponsoring this program and for supporting avalanche education for ice climbers.