Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club expands offerings to teach life saving skills |

Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club expands offerings to teach life-saving skills

Instructor Jon Miller works, founder of Backcountry United, with Devon John while running through a drill where students had to find avalanche beacons buried in the snow at Howelsen Hill during an avalanche rescue scenario. The classes were offered to members of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, coaches and the general public. (Photo by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — For generations, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club has been a place for young athletes to learn the skills they need to master the ski jumps, climb a hill on Nordic skis or navigate the bumps of a freestyle moguls course.

But on Monday, young Winter Sports Club snowboarder Walker Overstake came to Howelsen Hill to learn a different set of skills — ones that may not win him a gold medal at the next Olympics but could be one of the most important lessons he learns when it comes to sliding down a hill on a pair of skis or surfing powder on a snowboard.

“We advertised it to anyone 12 and up,” Winter Sports Club Marketing Director Rory Clow said of the avalanche classes that were offered at Howelsen on Monday. “It is a basic intro course that just gives the students the basic information and teaches them how to use the equipment needed to rescue someone in an avalanche.”

It was the first time the Winter Sports Club has hosted the avalanche safety class, which attracted 23 athletes, coaches and members of the public to take part in the five-hour field session on avalanche safety. The class was $25 for Winter Sports Club athletes and coaches and $50 for those not associated with the club.

Walker Overstake, a member of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club’s snowboarding team, sets his avalanche beacon to the proper mode during an avalanche safety class offered by the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club on Monday. The Winter Sports Club offered the optional class to athletes, coaches and members of the public. (Photo by John F. Russell)

The course reviewed a number of topics including how to find the proper routes in the backcountry, how to identify signs of instability when looking at a slope and general avalanche awareness. It also covered the proper use of tools, including avalanche beacons, probes and shovels, and techniques for finding and then rescuing an avalanche victim.

“This is something that we have been discussing for quite some time,” Clow said of the class. “This is the Winter Sports Club seeing more and more people in the community, both our athletes and general community members, out in the backcountry. Most of it is that we are a ski organization and snow safety is part of skiing whether you are an Alpine skier, a snowboarder or a freeskier.”

She said the club had a great opportunity to work with Backcountry United, who led the lesson plan. The program also got support from Routt County Search and Rescue, which provided guest speakers, and Colorado Sled Rentals and Ortovox, which provided beacons and other equipment needed in avalanche rescue. How Ya Doin Pizza and Eatz provided lunch, and NineSevenZero offered its products in prize packages that were handed out to top teams.

Students spent the first part of the session inside learning the basics and then headed outside in the afternoon where they practiced what they had learned by finding beacons buried in four different locations.

“Unfortunately, I’ve lost a lot of friends, or friends of friends, in the backcountry to avalanches over the last 30 years,” said Backcountry United founder John Miller, who grew up in the mountains of Northwest Colorado. “It’s super important for me to spread the experience that I have acquired over all these years and share this information with folks who want to be in the backcountry but don’t know where to start.”

Miller said it was nice to work with the large number of young people who showed up for Monday’s avalanche class.

“This is a really special opportunity for me to spread it to so many young people all at the same time,” Miller said. “We have been kind of wild west our whole lives in the backcountry — kind of defining things as we go, and now, we have this opportunity.

“The avalanche education and research has come so far, and the technology of our gear equipment has come so far, and now, the avalanche equipment as well — not only the technology — but the techniques that we use to do searches and rescues,” Miller added. “It’s a lot of things coming together at the same time, and it’s exciting to be passing all this on to the next generation.”

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

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