Are You Avy Savvy?

A new online learning tool is helping U.S. Ski & Snowboard members learn about avalanche safety. Here’s how you can get avy-savvy too—and why it’s a good idea even for East Coast skiers.

Five years ago, two young U.S. Ski Team athletes—Bryce Astle, 19, and Burke Mountain School graduate Ronnie Berlack, 20—died in an avalanche while freeskiing off-piste on a training trip to Austria. 

Now, a new program, funded by the U.S. Ski Team and the Bryce and Ronnie Athlete Snow Safety Foundation (BRASS), will help athletes on the U.S Ski Team and ski club racers be more avy-savvy.

The new online module from BRASS teaches athletes and coaches through a 90-minute program that integrates videos and presentations, and concludes with an online test about the basics of avalanche safety, snow science and the tenets of “Know Before You Go”—a one-hour program developed by the Utah Avalanche Center to help skiers recognize avalanche terrain.

The short course will be mandatory for all U.S. Ski & Snowboard members in early May, and though it’s currently only available to members, BRASS offers a free, open-to-the-public avalanche safety program designed to make skiers and riders aware of the dangers they could face in venturing into avalanche terrain.

Past instructors include Frank Carus, director of the Mt. Washington Avalanche Center at Tuckerman Ravine. Over the last three years, BRASS has funded American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) Level 1 certifications for more than 100 U.S. Ski Team athletes and coaches.

Though avalanche terrain is less common in the Northeast, it does exist. Just last April, an experienced skier was killed in a fatal slide near Tuckerman Ravine. And, in March 2018, Aaron Rice, who was featured in the film “2.5 Million” for skiing 2.5 million vertical feet in a year in 2016, had a close call with some friends in Smugglers’ Notch. They triggered a slide with a two-foot crown that ran for 1,300 vertical feet to cross Route 108. All involved were unscathed, but shaken.

Thanks to multi-resort season passes like the Ikon and Epic passes, it’s easier than ever for Eastern skiers to have access to avalanche terrain out West. Whether you plan to ski in New Hampshire, the Rockies, the Alps or right here in Smugglers’ Notch, taking an AIARE course is the best way to start your journey towards staying safe. It’s money well-spent.

AIARE Level 1 Classes in Vermont:

Feb. 6-9 | Smugglers’ Notch, Vt.: Evening classes at Onion River Outdoors in Montpelier followed by two full days of field time in Smugglers’ Notch. | Feb. 8-10, Smugglers’ Notch, Vt.: AIARE Avalanche Level I course is offered with class time at Petra Cliffs Climbing and Mountaineering School. | Feb. 24-27, Feb 28-March 1 | Lyndon, Vt. Northern Vermont University hosts classes at their Lyndon campus and at Burke Mountain.

Featured Photo: Partner rescue, trip planning and decision making in the backcountry are all skills you can gain in a three-day AIARE 1 Avalanche course. This winter, take one in Vermont.

Abagael Giles

Abagael Giles is the Assistant Editor at Vermont Ski + Ride Magazine. She loves free-heel skiing and exploring her home state of Vermont–one ridgetop at a time. Find her on Twitter at @AbagaelGiles.

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