Back to School

Its great to see the Bears in the Super Bowl again! I am going to order some pizzas from Chicago to have them shipped up (you'd be surprised how many of the pizza joints ship their pizzas) and possibly an Eli's Cheesecake for dessert. Its been a good year for Florida, winning both the NCAA Basketball and Football championships so maybe the luck of the Gators will be on Bears QB (and Florida alum) Rex Grossman.

This weekend I headed up Beaver Creek again on Saturday to get some skiing in. Mostly I stuck with some of the steeper chutes and tree runs seeing as the majority of the mountain was really bumped out. We haven't any more snow to speak of since the previous weekend's big dump and its been really cold lately. It was so cold though that the snow managed to stay fairly soft, it wasn't getting a chance to melt during the day so those sub-zero overnight temperatures didn't really ice things up. I poked around the area where I lost my ski again, but still no luck. Ski patrol has a ski, but I haven't gotten through yet to see if its mine or not. Maybe I'll get lucky and its been found!

Sunday was the field training for my avalanche class. The classroom part started Monday, and continued through Saturday evening. We learned a lot in the class room about avalanche phenomenon, snow science, backcountry travel and gear but the real meat of the class is putting it together in the field. We hiked up Vail Pass to a nice steep slope that resembles a popular East Vail chute where people like to ski. We set up a couple of different stations and then broke into groups. My groups first station was the "hasty search", a mock rescue exercise. The instructors set up a couple of scenarios and we had to search clues in the snow to try and find the "victim" (which was a buried backpack). First there were a couple of poles, by following the line between them we could determine that the "body" carried to a certain area where we searched and were able to dig up the pack. The second scenario there was nothing but a handkerchief and a set of tracks leading to some trees. There in the trees was one of our instructors posing as a victim. In this scenario he was dazed and walked away and passed out, but he had a partner. By interviewing him we could determine where his partner was likely do be despite no other clues and again dug up the pack. The next station we got to bury beacons in stuff sacks and use beacons to search for them. In general we were able to find them all in less than 2 minutes! Sure makes a beacon seem worth the price as they seem to be a quick easy way to find a buried partner if there was ever an accident. We also had a station to practice a probe line (used when there is no beacons) and also one to dig test pits in the snow to see how the layers have settled. The test pits were really interesting, and by conducting the different tests our instructor was able to determine that the slope was safe to ski, but with a risk of sliding on a hard impact such as a fall. In that situation a group should only ski that face if everyone felt they could ski it without falling. We ended the day with a mock rescue scenario which acted as our "test" and combined many of the skills we had learned. There were 4 victims, 3 with beacons but one without. We split the group into those who would use their beacons to search and those that would investigate clues and use probes to find the 4th victim. Two of the beacons were found in less than 3 minutes, the 3rd in about 8 minutes and it took almost 15 minutes to find the one that had no beacon. Sure does make you want to buy a beacon if travelling in avalanche terrain, they were all rescued quickly and would have been alive had it been a real rescue! It was an intersting class and one that anyone considering backcountry trips in winter, whether to ski, hike or snowmobile, should definitely take!