By Brooke Warren
Edited for posting by Eryka Thorley
“I’m pretty psyched about the ratios out here,” Jill said while we skinned up Meadow Mountain in Minturn, CO to practice beacon searches. We were a group of five women led by a female instructor, and there was another avalanche class out there, also led by a female guide. Way to represent, ladies!
We were taking an Avalanche Rescue Course with Backcountry Babes, a guiding service by women for women. Our group ranged from new backcountry travelers to women who were working toward professional certifications. We were snowmobilers, snowboarders, ski racers and powder hunters. Even though we had different modes of transportation in the mountains, we were all there for the same reason: we love exploring snowy slopes and we want to be safe while doing so.
We spent the day practicing beacon drills. We buried avalanche transceivers in the snow and played a recurring game of hide and seek, making companion rescue into muscle memory. The scene is safe, check; everyone switch to search mode, check; move in a 40-meter grid pattern, check; follow the arcing signal, check. The fine art of the grid search and probing in spirals slowly became second nature.
Morning of Rescue Course
By the end of the day we had practiced rescuing multiple burials and even how to make an improvised rescue sled. Most importantly, we learned to be efficient as we worked together to unbury a hypothetical avalanche victim. If fully buried under snow, a person has limited time before they asphyxiate. The survival rate rapidly decreases as time ticks towards 15 minutes, and after that the survival rate is close to zero percent (although the longest recorded survival is around 20 hours!). It’s important to move quickly.
By the end of our course, we all learned a lot, laughed, wallowed in the snow, and made tentative plans to ski with other participants. Our instructor, Janine, had 14 years working as a ski patroller under her belt, and her expertise added to our education. Although the scenarios were serious, we all had fun training together.
I’m grateful to Weston Backcountry and Backcountry Babes for helping me with the funds to attend this course, and put me on the path to further professional development. I hope I continue to see ladies equalizing the gender ratios in all backcountry sports!