January 21, 2015
Like most Washington based mountain enthusiasts I appreciate the Cascades long winters and propensity for enormous amounts of snow. This season however, while storms keep rolling through, the snow just hasn’t piled up. That is except on the slopes of Mt Rainier. As one of the snowiest places on earth, Paradise, on Mt Rainier’s south side, is a sure bet for fun snowy recreation and learning.
Last Friday, a group of five eager backcountry skiers gathered at the Outdoor Research Retail Store in Seattle for Day 1 of their AIARE Avalanche I Course. Surrounded by awesome OR gear and beautiful mountain photos, it was impossible to not be inspired to explore Washington’s majestic winter wonderland. That afternoon we dove into the fundamentals of avalanche safety. We talked about avalanche terrain, the winter snowpack, and how, we as travelers, make decisions. It was a great day of prep for our two days in the field on Mt. Rainier.
Saturday’s forecast was anything but perfect. Rain, rain, and more rain. As the group gathered at IMG’s Ashford, WA based headquarters the rain continued to pour down outside. Our team set down to the task of planning a fun short tour to practice avalanche rescue and to view some avalanche terrain. Then we all donned our goretex and jumped feet first into the puddles of the Paradise parking lot. The only bad days in the mountains are the days not spent in the mountains. Our team kept great spirits as we practiced avalanche rescue and ski toured towards the Paradise River.
Back in Ashford, the group found dry cloths, warm meals, and maybe a beer or two. One of my favorite parts of IMG’s Level 1 courses is that all the students are welcome to stay in IMG’s Guide Lounge upstairs in Ashford. This allows for some great informal education and team building that can only occur when we all relax, laugh, and share. I’d say we talked and laughed late into the night, but after a full day in the mountains we all hit the hay a little earlier than normal.
With our spirits slightly damp from the rain on Saturday the team regrouped for our Sunday adventure. This time it wasn’t rain but SNOW! The team planned for the conditions, sought out the best snow, then went to the field and executed their plan. Knowing visibility would be a concern the team set themselves up for some lower angle tree skiing. Minimizing their risk and maximizing the accumulating snow at Paradise. And what a day it was; exploring the winter wonderland.
I’m confident that this group will all be competent and safe backcountry travelers. Knowing where to find the fun and the safe snow in which to play.
Are you getting out into the mountains this winter? I know we are!