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By Alwyne Butler
Edited for posting by Eryka Thorley

Our Backcountry Babes AIARE Rescue Course was an excellent refresher in avalanche rescue skills and I feel more prepared in the event of an avalanche. The curriculum is focused on the techniques required if burials occur, including beacon use, shoveling techniques, and probing systematically. Our instructor Emily created a space to discuss decision-making and preparedness also. I would recommend this course to anyone who travels in the backcountry. 

Emily is a patient and approachable educator who delivers lessons with confidence. Being in a course with all women was a new experience for me, and our group of 5 participants made me believe in the power of gathering women together to learn and grow. We left with each other’s contact information and have loose plans to climb and ski together in the future. 

I had two distinct “ah-ha” moments during the Avalanche Rescue Course taught by Backcountry Babes. One occurred during beacon check, something I have done many times. Typically, when my ski partners and I do beacon searches, one person (person A) goes into search mode with everyone else in transmit mode. Skiers then space out and walk past person A to ensure all are transmitting a signal. The last person (person D) goes to search mode and checks that person A is transmitting. HOWEVER, our Backcountry Babes instructor reminded me that we are not done there. It is possible for a beacon to transmit a signal but fail in search mode. A simple way to check that everyone can search is to have everyone go to search mode at the beginning of the check. Instruct everyone in the group to turn to SEARCH.  Once everyone successfully toggles to search mode, there will be no beeping sounds and/or flashing and arrows. You’d be surprised how many people actually LEARN how to toggle to search mode at this moment.  A good thing to learn before you are out touring!  At that point the leader can turn their beacon to TRANSMIT, and everyone else in the group should pick up the signal from the transmitting person with a reading of an approximate distance. This confirms that everyone’s search mode works.  It’s a worthy reminder to spend a few more seconds ensuring everyone knows how to use the most basic functions of transceivers and that they work.  If something is glitchy, it’s time to send it in to the manufacturer and get a new one.  

The other “ah-ha” moment was regarding probing. Once a searcher has successfully bracketed a zone to begin probing, commit to the bracket zone. Use the spiral technique to hone in and keep probing. It was easy to want to give up on the probe if an immediate strike did not happen in fear of having misread the beacon and go back to fine searching. However, if a bracket is established with attention to detail then it is a waste to throw the probe aside and return to the beacon. Keep probing! Have an established probing pattern that you’ve practiced and keep with it. We always got a strike within seconds of swallowing the urge to ditch the probe. 

One of the most important ways we learn is from one another.  This is a series about a number of scholarship recipients and their formal avalanche education with Backcountry Babes.  Read on, learn from their stories, and if you are ready to further your own avalanche education, check out our course calendar for upcoming opportunities.

*** Note that this post was edited from Alwyne’s original scholarship application & follow up submission. Thank you Alwyne for sharing your story with us!