Steven’s Pass, Instructor Training Course

This past Thursday concluded a 3 day American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) Instructor Training Course (ITC) in Steven’s Pass, Washington. Three other Eastern Mountain Sports School Guides and I headed west to the Cascades to improve our ability to provide high quality avalanche education that has become synonymous with EMS Schools and AIARE courses.

Steven’s Pass is on Route 2, about 2 hours east of Seattle, between Skykomish and Leavensworth
Steven’s Pass is on Route 2, about 2 hours east of Seattle, between Skykomish and Leavensworth

Steven’s Pass is a very impressive and notable place to focus on avalanche education. Not only from the high profile accident that happened last year that resulted it this recently published (and graphically impressive) NY Times web article but it was also the location of the deadliest avalanche in US history!

We left my house in Conway, NH at 3am Monday, and 21 hours (and 3,400 miles) later we arrived at the Mountaineer’s Lodge on the edge of the Steven’s Pass Ski Resort.

The Seattle based “Mountaineer’s” maintain this lodge on the edge of the ski resort...
The Seattle based “Mountaineer’s” maintain this lodge on the edge of the ski resort…

The next morning we joined the 14 other participants comprised of guides, ski patrollers, and outdoor educators, along with the three facilitators, Margaret Wheeler, of the American Mountain Guide Association, Larry Goldie, IMFGA and owner of North Cascades Mountain Guides, and Scott Schnell, of the North West Avalanche Center. We could not hope for a more skilled group of facilitators to convey the info and knowledge packed into this 3 day “conference” of sorts.

Day 1 was adjusted to include quite a bit of classroom as MN (Mother Nature) was gracing us east coasters with something we were pretty familiar with… rain.

Some classroom time
A break during the some classroom time

On Day 2 we spent the majority of the afternoon conducting very beneficial field sessions, and in the end got in a few good turns (by east coast standards).

Some group discussion about making observations
Some group discussion about making observations
Making some terrain decisions
Making some terrain decisions
Our short tour on Day 2
Our short tour on Day 2

By Day 3 however the temps had dropped, the powder had fallen, and our ski tour allowed for close to 1,200 feet of vert. interspersed with some peer on peer instruction. We traveled along the Pacific Crest Trail then ascended Stormy’s Ridge next to Moonlight Bowl…

Skinning out along the PCT
Skinning out along the PCT
Starting the climb up to Stormy's
Starting the climb up to Stormy’s
Getting close to our highpoint
Getting close to our highpoint

We took a short 700 foot lap then skinned back up from some more:

Stormy’s Ridge Tour
Stormy’s Ridge Tour

The course wrapped up Thursday night, but we had planned to stay an extra day to play and luck was definitely with us as Friday dawned clear and cold. We grabbed lift tickets for the resort, and I got to experience my first solid taste of “side-country”.

We traversed the entire resort Euro style by heading straight for the 7th Heaven chair, then traversing the ridge from Cowboy Mountain over to Big Chief with a few steep runs in-between.

Our lift assisted tour ;)
Our lift assisted tour 😉

After gaining the ridge we set our eyes on the untouched powder visible on the south slopes of Big Chief:

Southside of Big Chief
Southside of Big Chief

The day inspired my to toss together yet another cheezy home vid collaige of the day:

I’m still trying to absorb all the info I’ve gathered over the last 4 days. From conversations with fellow educators, to coaching from some of the industry’s highest avalanche professionals, to practical experience in a new snow climate and mountain range, I’ve walked away feeling more confident than ever at delivering the mission statement of AIARE “Save lives through education”. And now, through EMS Schools commitment to guide training we’ll be able to continue that mission on a scale close to double what we were providing! Now if some of that coastal snow would follow me home we should be all set for a great course in two weekends!

4 thoughts on “Steven’s Pass, Instructor Training Course

  1. Dave, thanks for the write-up. And sure looks different than our ITC way back in mid-December 2006 — the only snow I saw during the entire three days was when I skinned up for a few early-morning laps on my own on the WROD at nearby Wildcat!

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    • You couldn’t be more correct Jonathan… this ITC helped solidify so many things for me I can’t wait for the next course I am teaching… to often we are trapped in a bubble and these ITC’s are so awesome at busting them!

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