Saturday, January 25, 2014

AAIRE Level 1 @ Mt. Washington, NH

Coldest Windchill Yet?

In late January, we took the AAIRE Level 1 (Avalanche Awareness) course with Jon Tierney from Acadia Mountain Guides at Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.  For anyone out there on the internets who is considering this course, here's my review...

The course had more classroom time than I expected.  The Friday evening, Saturday morning, part of Saturday afternoon, and part of Sunday afternoon were in the classroom.  The classroom sessions are ok - a review and discussion of the material in the manual, plus lots videos.  The best part of the classroom session was this interactive route finding exercise, which is available free to the public for playing!

Saturday afternoon, we spent a few hours doing beacon practice.  Modern beacons seem really simple to use, though maybe I would feel differently if I were in a rescue situation.  We each practiced acting in the lead (beacon) and supporting (probe) rescue roles.

Hilarious moment:  seeing Tim running toward the buried "victim," which has been a beacon hidden in a stuff sack in every other scenario...  out pops Dave!

Sunday morning, we hiked up to Hermit Lake to for a basic snowpack analysis.  This is the best part of the class, as you'll actually see the facets, rounds, weak layers, and other snow terms from the classroom.
The conditions were brutally cold (around 0 F), with 45 mph winds and windchills around -30F.  Bring every single layer you have, not just your usual ski clothes, as you'll spend a lot of time standing around.  And don't run up the hill like the college boys to show off your fitness, as you'll just sweat and get even colder.  Slow n' steady wins the warmth.
Jon, the instructor, been guiding almost as long as I've been alive and literally wrote the book on a few climbing certification courses.  He was personable and a pretty good teacher, though he seemed really tired during our course.  Sometimes I found myself zoning out when he was telling yet another personal story, but with as much experience as he has, it's not surprising that he's seen it all.
Overall, the best part of the course was the emphasis on group dynamics and trip planning.  These skills are a continual "work in progress" for Dave and I.  The course spurred a lot of great discussion about how we plan our trips (or don't) and our dynamic as we balance being a married couple who climbs together, as well as climbing partners who are married to each other.
Overall, I enjoyed the course, and I think it added to my body of outdoor knowledge.  The course was geared toward backcountry skiiers.  Given my preferred activities, I think the most likely situations where I might encounter avalanche potential is on a slide or maybe a climb in the Adirondacks.  I'm definitely NOT an expert - the course emphasizes that something like 30-40% of folks killed in slides have formal avalanche training - but at least I have a better idea of what I don't know.

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