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Pro Rider Workshop Strengthens Backcountry Safety Culture : Pro Takeaways

Teton Gravity Research and Mountain Safety Logistics‘ International Pro Rider Workshop Focuses on Preparation and Backcountry Safety

The adage "know before you go" has long been attributed to venturing out into the backcountry, but how many actually adhere to the saying and are well-equipped with the knowledge and skills to be exceptionally prepared when riding and filming in pow-laden, potentially avalanche-prone areas?

For athletes and crews that work within these elements,  having a keen understanding of the dangers that can exist, along with possessing the knowledge and ability to overcome any obstacle is paramount.

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Mark Carter and TGR’s crew watch as MSL’s Guide John Bressette leads a snow safety workshop during IPRW. Photo: Chris Wellhausen

To propagate and inspire backcountry safety and knowledge, the International Pro Riders Workshop (IPRW) was created and has become the eminent, reputable course that sets the safety standard within mountain film production work. The ninth iteration of the prestigious event took over Jackson Hole Mountain Resort for three days and provided the opportunity for Teton Gravity Research's astute athletes and production crew to join together and broaden their safety knowledge, while brushing up on their backcountry skills prior to the hectic film season.

Mountain Safety Logistics, (MSL), a renowned Alaskan-based guide company that specializes in custom operations for film-companies, hosted the supercharged event that included classroom seminars, on-mountain snow-safety trainings, beacon-drills, scenario-based rescue situations, anecdotes of recuses gone awry and a ‘Defend My Line’ presentation, where athletes talked through some of their worst falls of the season, and what they learned from them.

As the pinnacle of mountain safety and education, IPRW is a highly regarded event that brings together a cadre of the world’s best athletes and guides. This year on the snowboard-side of things, Mark Carter, Forrest Shearer, Lucas Debari, Ryland Bell, and Sammy Luebke were among the heavy roster of attendees. We caught up with each for their top takeaways from the inspiring event. Scroll through the gallery above for a glimpse into the action of the workshops, along with highlights and quotes from the riders.

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Lucas Debari takes the vitals of an avalanche victim during a rescue scenario. Photo: Chris Wellhausen

Lucas Debari:

All in all, IPRW is the most relevant and productive safety workshop I’ve been a part of. It’s very applicable to the scenarios in the backcountry we find ourselves in, like in Alaska and beyond. There's an incredible amount to learn from MSL's guides, medical workers and staff that host this event. I’ve basically done a whole WFR [Wilderness First Responder] in one day, but with the added components of ropes courses, avy work, and snow-science courses.

Everyone comes into this workshop with different level of skills and for me, the most interesting workshop has been the first aid courses. That’s probably my weakest point, so I found it the most informational. Even with subjects I thought I had dialed, it’s been really amazing to go through again and work out any kinks that I might have and just continue to practice.

One thing that I've realized is that training is the most important thing. It's so important that these training become second nature especially when stress levels are high. When simulating some of these scenarios in these environments, I find myself forgetting some of my basic skills, because I haven’t practiced them enough throughout the past couple of years and this course really inspires me to continue my training.

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Ropes and anchors course on Day 3. Photo: Andrew Miller

Mark Carter:

This is the reason why I work with TGR. It’s a whole family, and for them to bring together everyone that we work with, from cinematographers to riders, and go through this training— It's the most important training that we can have in this profession. For them to take the initiative and bring all these people together and put them in these situations with the best guides in the world creates an immersive, informative environment. I always walk away from this situation very humbled.

We're all in this profession because we love to be in the mountains, but in a split second, shit can go wrong, and you have to be able to handle that situation under pressure, and possible save your best friend. This course provides the necessary guidance and information to help elevate our backcountry knowledge and be prepared for situations when out in the field. 

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A surprise rescue scenario popped up on Day 3. Photo: Andrew Miller

Forrest Shearer:

Highlights for me from this IPRW have definitely been working out the scenarios and drills, while working with the guys that I normally go on film trips with. This workshop has been a great way to strengthen our working bond. I find myself in a lot of expedition-based trips with Jeremy Jones, Lucas Debari, Ryland Bell, and for us, this practice is something we can never have enough of. We can always continue to learn and evolve, which is awesome.

We always meet new people that have signed up to do this, from new athletes to others working on a production level, and it's really good to figure out how everyone works within their role in the team. This year the beacon drill was really difficult and I think it’s really important to take it back a couple steps. We’ve been doing this for so long and we’re  professionals within this sport, but it always impresses me that we can always learn more. I think it’s good to look at this from the perspective that no one can know too much. We all can gain as much knowledge as you open your mind to. Knowledge is power, and that definitely is the biggest takeaway from this event.

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Knowledge is power. Photo: Chris Wellhausen

Sammy Luebke:

There’s a lot of information, from first aid to first responder, to snow safety and beyond. We're practicing with our beacons and we’re learning how to rappel and work with ropes, so we’re getting a good grasp on so much of what you need to know when going out in the field. 

What’s really stood out to me were the first aid segments. It’s something I've never really tapped into and if I had the opportunity to help someone, then I’d really hope that I'd have the knowledge to help them. This has really given me a lot of information. This is like packing two to three weeks of information into three days, so it's a ton of information, but amazing to learn and be apart of it.

IPRW has previously been an invite-only event for elite athletes and films crews, but as interest to broaden the culture of mountain saftey continues to increase, IPRW may return next year with courses open to the public. Stay tuned for more action dropping from IPRW, along with expanded interviews from MSL’s lead guides.

Related: How A Few Splitboarders are challenging the ski-centric certification model of  the American Mountain Guide Association

Thanks to Teton Gravity Research, Mountain Safety Logistics, and JHMR for hosting this incredibly inspiring, eye-opening event.

 Check out more backcountry safety posts here.