SSWSC offers new backcountry safety program
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Over the past few years, backcountry skiing has been growing in popularity. The allure of the sport only escalated when resorts closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and will likely continue to grow with ski resorts likely operating differently this year.
Gear is difficult to find, avalanche safety classes fill up fast and popular terrain areas are getting busier and busier each year.
Following this trend and trying to get more safe skiers on the slopes, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club is offering a Winter Backcountry Education for teenagers.
Lucas Mouttet, the lead instructor for Never Summer Outdoor School, will coach the program that is open to newbie or experienced backcountry skiers.
The SSWSC offered a mountaineering program last winter, but that was more focused on the competitive side of skimo. This program will be more about safety, skills and equipment, setting up young skiers for a long and safe backcountry career.
“It feels like we struck a little bit of a cord with the Steamboat community,” said SSWSC Freeskiing coach Tony Lodico. “There are people who love hiking up and skiing down and don’t love the racing (aspect).”
Mouttet believes any skier should have some basic knowledge of snowpack and avalanches.
“If you live near the ocean, you need to understand riptides,” he said. “People growing up in this area need to know about avalanches.”
The course will include AIARE (American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education) Level 1 certification, but unlike many courses, the training will be slower and spread out over a longer period of time.
“There’s a lot of avalanche courses, in 24 hours of instruction, you don’t know where everyone is at,” said Mouttet. “We’re going to have a really good idea of where these kids are at.”
In addition to the AIARE Level 1 content, the course will cover snowpack, terrain and wilderness first aid.
Participants will spend time at Howelsen Hill, Rabbit Ears Pass, Steamboat Resort and Hahns Peak.
The program begins in November and runs all winter through March. Registration is open at sswsc.org/winter-programs/free/ski/backcountry. For 59 straight years, Colorado has been the most dangerous state for avalanches, according to data from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. With more people headed into the backcountry, and only so many being educated, the amount of avalanches and avalanche fatalities could very well increase in the coming years. That’s why educating people on the dangers and the skills to be safe and survive is critical.
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