SAFE AS Clinics: Snow Safety Education by Women for Women
Words & photos by Kristen Kochevar: Avalanche awareness is a must-have for any skier or boarder who plans on riding in the backcountry, side-country, or even sometimes in-bounds at ski and snowboard areas in Washington. SAFE AS (“Skiers Advocating and Fostering Avalanche and Snow Safety”) was founded by women and caters to women. Their avalanche awareness clinics are all about learning the essentials in a friendly setting with a group of like-minded women. After making the most out of a rainy weekend in Tahoe, professional skiers Michelle Parker, Elyse Saugstad, Jackie Paaso, Lel Tone, Ingrid Backstrom along with snowboarders Hana Beaman and Robin Van Gyn traveled to Washington in early December with hopes of finding conditions more conducive to teaching snow safety at Crystal Mountain and Stevens Pass.
The pro instructors along with about 30 women showed up bright and early on a clear Saturday morning at Crystal Mountain. From high school students to a mother-daughter duo, age and experience was varied but enthusiasm and support was high across the board. We started off with some early morning yoga led by Audrey Sutton, then dove right into the classroom portion of the clinic with evo’s Ingrid Backstrom proposing a new rule for the day: if you start a sentence or question with “Sorry…” you will owe ten push-ups at the end of the day. This was such a great way to establish a no-shame learning environment, which is what SAFE AS Clinics are all about. For the record, the end of the day push-up line was led by Elyse.
Lel Tone started off the lectures with an introduction to avy education, accompanied by a pop quiz complete with prizes for the best avalanche anatomy drawings. Michelle Parker was up next with a hands-on demonstration teaching us about weak layers in the snow pack and how the terrain and weather can drastically change the stability of snow. Crystal Mountain ski patrollers Kim Kircher and Michelle Longstreth popped in to teach us about local resources at Crystal Mountain, the two biggest resources being themselves, telling us all to track them down anytime we have questions or just want to talk snow.
Jackie Paaso then taught us about trip planning, with one of her biggest insights being that on average, people only spend 8 seconds looking at avalanche forecasts before going skiing, cautioning us to trust your friends’ report at your own risk! Ingrid Backstrom went over an avalanche case study that happened just last year in the backcountry at Crystal Mountain that really hit home for all of us, teaching us that mistakes happen, and that you should be hyper-aware of the small things because they can add up quickly. Robyn Van Gyn and Elyse Saugstad then stepped up to talk about being a woman in the backcountry, how to trust our voice and to not be afraid to use it.
We then broke into smaller groups and headed out for the on snow portion of the day, which included beacon searches, practicing with both a probe and shovel, and a full run through of the whole process from start to finish. Ending the day with a few hot laps with our idols before the lifts closed ensured that we all headed into the lodge with smiles on our faces.
After talking with many of the women who participated, it was readily agreed upon that SAFE AS Clinics are an amazing tool for women who are looking to do more backcountry travel and want to do it the right way, with both knowledge and confidence. For more information about SAFE AS visit www.safeasclinics.com