Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Winter 2013-14 AIARE Level 1 & 2 Avalanche Course Dates

With an increase in interest in backcountry skiing we have seen tremendous growth in the number of people taking avalanche courses.  Last winter 156 people attended our AIARE Level 1 and AIARE Level 2 courses. Each season we review the feedback from previous years and update the program anywhere that we feel we can make improvements.  In winter 2013-14 we have decreased the total classroom time and increased the total field time as we concluded that this is where student's gain the most actual skill when it comes to making solid decisions when out touring. 
Students on Northwest Mountain School AIARE Level 1 Course near Stevens Pass, WA
We have also recently acquired a fleet of Ortovox Tour 32 + 7 ABS packs that we will be offering as demo units to participants on our avalanche courses and as rental packs on our Europe ski programs.  Ortovox is once again on board as one of our major sponsors and will once again be providing the excellent S1+ beacons for use on our courses. 
Classroom space at Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort
Most of our most veteran staff are returning from last winter and we are happy to have a deeply seasoned crew.  Instructors include a mix of IFMGA Guides, Washington Department of Transportation Avalanche Technicians, and Ski Patrollers.  In the past few years we have been running weekly courses throughout the season giving these folks the opportunity to really dial in their presentations and field sessions.  Each also works in the field between courses either managing avalanche risks along various mountain passes in Washington, at local ski areas, and while conducting guided tours in the backcountry in Washington and Europe.  This ensures that each instructor is not only immersed in the actual AIARE curriculum, but also up to date on the current situation in the field.
Pre-trip meeting during touring portion of AIARE Level 1 Course
We raised prices slightly to reflect higher fees being charged by AIARE for each student that goes through the course.  We were happy to see AIARE do this as they have really done a fantastic job of keeping the curriculum fresh and up to date and they provide a very consistent and functional framework for teaching these courses.
Surface hoar.  Commonly implicated weak layer when buried in snowpack
Many of the early season courses fill very quickly.  If interested in a particular date don't wait too long to secure your space as the total number of participants for each course is limited to provide the best possible experience.  In addition to the courses listed here we also organize custom programs for government organizations, search and rescue groups, and members of the general public that simply want a certain date with a certain group of people.  Contact the office at 509-548-5823 or send an e-mail for details. 
The real point of dialing in your avalanche skills, great times in the backcountry.
AIARE Level 1 Course Details:  
This is a 3-day course with 24 hours of classroom and field work. Historically there has been a very wide variety of Level 1 courses and AIARE stepped into this chaotic situation and radically beefed up the required content of the AIARE Level 1 program.  We have had plenty of students comment that they found their AIARE Level 1 to be more advanced and more detailed that other non-AIARE courses marketed as a level 2 course.  For the majority of backcountry skiers this may be the only avalanche course that they ever take.  The course focuses very carefully on the decision making process and encourages backcountry users to very carefully follow the terrain and travel recommendations published in the local avalanche report.  This is a very appropriate course for new backcountry travelers as well as those with deep local experience with perhaps less formal training. This is a great opportunity to get up to speed on the current language, techniques, pre-trip planning, and field based observations that lead to good decision making when out in the mountains.  If it has been a long time since you have taken an AIARE Level 1, it would not be unreasonable to retake the level 1. 

Winter 2013-14 AIARE Level 1 Dates:
  • December 6-8, 2013
  • December 13-15, 2013
  • December 27-29, 2013
  • January 3-5, 2014
  • January 18-20, 2014
  • January 31 - February 2, 2014
  • February 15-17, 2014
  • February 28 - March 2, 2014
  • March 7-9, 2014
  • Custom Dates Available Dec-April

AIARE Level 2 Course Details: 
This is a professional level course and is used to train ski patrollers, mountain guides, and frequent backcountry travelers that want to improve their decision making skills and avalanche knowledge.  This course also includes the introductory and prerequisite components for progression to AIARE level 3 programs.  Participants are expected to be familiar with the material covered in the AIARE level 1 course.  Leavenworth provides the ideal base for this course as we are within 45 minutes of a very wide variety of snowpacks.  During the course you will visit Stevens Pass, Icicle Creek Canyon, Blewett Pass, and at least one other site allowing you to see how the snowpack changes radically as you move east and west of the Cascade Crest and move to different aspects and elevations.  Most days begin and end in the classroom with the majority of the day spent in the field making observations, training, and testing the hypothesis formed by looking at the avalanche forecast, current weather and snow pack data, and various snow pack exchange groups.  If taking this course you need to be able to move efficiently in the backcountry as each day involves significant touring to get into various slopes that we are interested in.

Winter 2013-14 AIARE Level 2 Dates: 
  • Jan. 9-12, 2014
  • Feb. 6-9, 2014
  • Custom Dates Available

AIARE Level 1 Refresher Course Details:

If you do not work with the materials covered in the AIARE Level 1 course it is very common for this skill set to become rusty.  For many the best solution is to retake the Level 1 course, but for others you may just want to to refresh your understanding of the level 1 course.  Over the years we have refined our Level 1 refresher course and come to realize that the most effective way to have you reintegrate your existing knowledge and be exposed to new information that has been developed since your level 1 course is to sit in on the tour planning session of day 2 of our regular course and then participate in the field day the following day.  This allows you to review the forecast, come up with a good route plan and alternate options, and then execute this plan on Day 2.  During the field day you will also be able to practice a full rescue scenario and get direct feedback from your course instructors.  Space on refresher courses is limited to a small portion of the class to maintain balance for the other participants.  

Winter 2013-14 AIARE Level 1 Refresher Dates: 
  • December 9, 2012
  • January 13, 2013
  • February 3, 2013
  • March 3, 2013
  • Custom Dates Available

For more information about any of our avalanche courses feel free to call the office directly at 509-548-5823 or stop by our office at 940 US highway 2, unit F in downtown Leavenworth, WA next to the US Post Office.  

About the Northwest Mountain School:  We are based in Leavenworth, WA, have been in business since 1994, and are owned and operated by IFMGA guides John & Olivia Race. We routinely guide clients on extended ski tours such as the Haute Route Ski Tour in Europe, and have previously guided 30 expeditions to Denali, 8 expeditions to 8000 meter peaks, and other climbs worldwide in a combined 38 years of guiding.  

Monday, August 26, 2013

Castle Rock Trail Project ~ August 2013

We were recently invited to participate in a 2-day trail improvement project in Tumwater Canyon on Castle Rock, just outside Leavenworth, WA on August 16-17, 2013.  Several groups were involved, but credit for getting the actual project to the starting line should go to Matt Perkins of the Washington Climbers Coalition and Gabe Snider from the Wenatchee River Ranger District of the US Forest Service.  Matt has wanted to do this project for a long time, but needed the go ahead from the USFS as any alteration or improvement of trails requires guidance from the federal agency that manages the land. Gabe recently took over as Wilderness Manager in the Leavenworth office and has brought great energy to her job. She secured funding for a new climbing ranger program in Icicle Creek Canyon and Tumwater Canyon and is developing a climbing ranger program that primarily consists of veteran ranger Adam Greenstreet, and Morgan Foster who was new this year.

Claire Wagstaff, Matt Perkins, and Morgan Foster at the beginning of our project
Key to the entire project was help from the Access Fund's Conservation Team. Claire Wagstaff and Eddie Woolridge showed up with a ton of tools and spent time surveying the existing terrain and determining which sections of trail we would work on. They have worked in 17 states at 19 different climbing locations this year. In most cases it sounds like what they are doing is giving volunteers the tools, skills, and supervision required to demonstrate to various land managers that volunteer trail projects at climbing areas can be done well. This particular project did not involve any new trail construction, but rather had us hardening existing trails, repairing sections of trail that had been damaged, closing the myriad of social trails that develop along side the preferred main trail, and trimming back over grown vegetation to make the preferred trail more obvious. On Castle Rock the climbers descent trail had become a very loose, vaguely defined and slightly dangerous descent and the approach trail had braided into a variety of trails. We were amazed at how much better it all looked after 12 people worked for 2 days. By my math that is 12 people x 12 hours or 144 hours of work to improve several hundred feet of trail in very difficult terrain.

The work crew on Day 1 of the Castle Rock Trail Project
Most of the work involved moving large stones to rebuild sections of retaining wall that had slowly fallen apart, filling in the trail above these supports, and then "gargoyling" areas that will fare better if climbers can stay off them. I was not familiar with the term gargoyle prior to this and it basically seems to indicate that you make an area unattractive as a hiking route. We would place stones, brush, and other objects into the trails that need time to heal in hopes that people will stick to the main trail. The issue was not so much that people are intentionally using the less preferred trail, but that as things deteriorate it is not obvious where to go. When we were finished things looked really obvious and in a few places a bit raw as plenty of huge rocks were repositioned, dirt moved, and vegetation trimmed, but after a few good rain events and months of normal growth and the it will be hard to tell how old the trail is.

Adam Greenstreet from the USFS giving a safety briefing for the day.
Leavenworth has an excellent trail crew, but they are tasked with managing trails spread over a huge area. Many of the trails cannot be improved or repaired until the snow melts each summer and the combination of a short season, annual tree fall from winter, and an infinite number of trails to maintain leaves room for volunteer efforts. The concern with volunteers is that a much less skilled work force is unlikely to do as good a job as the professionals and this can lead to future erosion, unstable trail, etc. The idea here was that the WCC, the USFS, and the AF could all make sure that things were done properly with the rest of us volunteering the brute force required to make it happen. I know that the same guys that do the trails up by Lake Wenatchee are also responsible for things as far away as Devil's Gulch near Wenatchee as well as trails up on Icicle Ridge, etc. They have a huge area to cover and the USFS generally has a pretty limited budget for this sort of thing, so developing a volunteer group can help out if things can be done properly.

Morgan Foster, who actually has built trail professionally, showing us what to do.
The Northwest Mountain School, Chelan County Search and Rescue, the American Alpine Club, the Leavenworth Mountain Association, Icicle TV, and the Mountaineers all provided the "strong backs" needed to simply move materials around and make the trails. There are certainly topics related to climbing where all of these different parties have different objectives and opinions about what should and should not take place on public lands, so a very big side benefit of the whole project was the opportunity to get to know more about each organization and put a face to a name. At the end of the day we all share a desire to see climbing in Leavenworth remain safe and enjoyable for all users while being sure that the actual physical resource is not harmed. The hope for all is that this creates a core group of people that can work through future challenges related to climbing in our area.

Refurbishing a retaining wall on Day 1
The main thing that I took away from this is that it is far better to do something to make your special spot better than it is to sit around an gripe about whatever it is that bothers you. Pick up a shovel, put on some leather gloves, and start the very physical process of doing something and all of the bar stool chatter about who did what and why and how you would do it different starts to be less important than who actually shows up and actually sweats. Which reminds me, I love to mountain bike, and the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, the USFS, and a bunch of locals are doing great work on local mountain bike trails. I guess if I am going to use them, now is the time to get out and do something to make them better.

Nick Till on the morning of Day 2 walking a section we repaired on Day 1.
Thanks to everyone that showed up.  NMS intern, Nick Till, wrapped up his summer with us on this project and we appreciated his efforts this summer. We are really looking forward to seeing what Gabe, Adam, and Morgan do with the Leavenworth Climbing Ranger Program and hope to work with all of these groups again soon.

John & Olivia Race
Northwest Mountain School Owners
IFMGA Guides

About the Northwest Mountain School:
We are a guide service based in Leavenworth, WA.  John & Olivia Race own the business and are both IFMGA guides. We run a variety of rock, alpine, and ski mountaineering programs. Our Leavenworth rock climbing programs run from March-October and range from 5-hour basic rock programs to overnight climbs of classic routes such as Orbit and Outer Space on Snowcreek Wall. Our office is at 940 US highway 2, Unit F, next to the US post office and our phone number is (509) 548-5823. More information can be found here: Leavenworth Rock Climbing Guides and Courses