Eastern Snow Avalanche Workshop, Instructor Refresher Course, and the first signs of winter

Last week I attended two annual events that always get me stoked on the upcoming winter season. The first was the sixth annual Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop. I haven’t missed one yet and although this one wasn’t held at the grand Omni Mount Washington Resort like last year the venue was quite nice (and a lot closer to home, just over the Maine border in Fryeburg).

The event kicked off Friday night at International Mountain Equipment in North Conway with registration, vendor booths, and beer courtesy of Moat Mountain Brewery. I set up a vendor table for the American Institute of Research and Education and was quite excited to see many former students in attendance. Next to my booth was DPS Skis, an amazing ski company I just became an ambassador for. I’ll be ripping the Wailer 112RP Tour 1 skis this season and will definitely post up more info once I’ve gotten some runs ticked.

I did “Instagram Story” the whole event but forgot to actually save any of the pics from the day… so picture a bunch of people having a good time while checking our vendor booths from DPS Skis, LaSportiva, Petzl, Friends of Tuckerman Ravine, and Black Diamond and you get the idea.

Saturday started early at the beautiful Leura Hill Eastman Center for Performing Arts at Fryeburg Academy. I set up my AIARE booth again directly across from Ortovox, a company whose products I have been using for over a decade and also just became an ambassador for!

Ortovox, Voice of the Mountains
Ortovox, Voice of the Mountains

A couple years ago I reviewed the Ortovox Kodiak shovel here! Expect to hear a lot more about Ortovox products from me this winter!

Right at 8:15 the main event kicked off.

6th Annual Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop

There were a lot of great topics & presenters this year. My friend and colleague Jonathan Shefftz is finishing edits of a write-up for the American Avalanche Associations publication “The Avalanche Review“, and when he is finished I’ll share his work (by permission) here. For now I’ll just mention my highlights:

USFS Snow Ranger Helon Hoffer got us excited about work being done to create sustainable (and legal) glades to increase our amount of available back-country ski terrain. Something near and dear to the recently formed Granite Backcountry Alliance. <– a great place to go if you are interested in what you can do to contribute!

After a quick break and some contacts at the AIARE booth I was back in my seat for Jaime Musnicki, the Executive Director of AAA, enlightening personal story of being caught in an avalanche and what she learned from this experience. This was followed by Jon Miller’s story via pre-recorded video of his life threatening fall down Hillman’s Highway late last winter and the impacts it has had on him and his friends and family.

Next up Dallas Glass, a climbing guide and former avalanche forecaster who is also in the AIARE Instructor Pool gave a very engaging talk on the role of luck in the mountains. Perhaps my favorite quote of the day, which he attributed to IMFGA guide Larry Goldie, was;

“Debrief the day… or Why Having A Beer At The End Of The Day Could Save Your Life”

We broke for lunch and had an afternoon filled with more great talks. Jaime (from AAA) once again took the stage and talked a bit about the upcoming split between the “Recreational and Professional Education Tracks”, more commonly referred to as the “Pro/Rec” split. This was a subject I was eager to learn more about and the following day I would have that chance during our AIARE Instructor Refresher Course.

Another round-table occurred, and Sam Colbeck, a true master of snow science, gave a highly technical talk with the simple name of “Why Skis Slide on Snow”… most importantly he answered the age old question are black ski bases faster than white ski bases? The definitive answer after breaking out a few technical terms that broke Google was… “maybe”. I hope Sam attends the next 10 ESAW’s… his talks are always the right mix of “wow I should try to be smarter” and “I hope I’m funny like that sometimes”.

Another break and then Frank Carus from the Mount Washington Avalanche Center gave us some insight of the difficulty of forecasting in terrain as dangerous as Mount Washington.

Following out going Lead Snow Ranger Christpher Joosen’s talk about his lifes work on the mountain (over 25 years!) we retired to our post-ESAW social hour and vendor booths.

I will link to Jonathan’s full report on the ESAW once it is finalized.

The next day a dozen avalanche educators from around the Northeast gathered at the Mount Washington Observatory’s conference room for an Instructor Refresher Course led by Dallas Glass.

AIARE Instructor Refresher Course
AIARE Instructor Refresher Course

This forum answered many of our questions about the upcoming Pro/Rec track splits and was a great opportunity to catch up with other educators. Towards the end we got a sneak peak of some of the bigger curriculum changes and were offered time to provide feedback and suggestions.

A new Decision Making Framework?

Well the annual ESAW/IRC weekend always makes me desperate for some snow and ice so today I ran up to Hermit Lake to see how things were looking. Trail work on the Tuckerman Ravine trail currently creates about a mile detour via the Huntington Ravine Trail and Raymond path so plan accordingly. I will update this post once I hear the main trail is open again. There are pics on my Instagram from today if you are interested.

Finally if you are thinking about taking an avalanche course this winter might I suggest you think about booking your dates now? Most providers in the area fill up soon after Thanksgiving so if you want to have the best selection of dates now is a good time to nail it down. In addition if you book with Northeast Mountaineering before December 1st you can save 10% on the tuition. You also get 2 nights of lodging included. Oh and you get entered into a contest to win a free day of guiding for two people! So why wait? Use coupon code “davidNEM” at checkout to get both the 10% discount and be entered into the contest!

Thanks for reading!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start


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