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Risk Maturity: Avalanche Awareness at Baldface Lodge – Highlights & Gallery

Words: Jeff Pensiero

Photos: Dustin Lalik

A few years back Pat Moore and I were catching up in the cat about his experiences traveling and filming for the Veeco Film,  Mr. Plant.  As he relayed tales of spines, slashes, rails, bails, crails and fails, and more specifically about some of the close calls that he experienced over his career, another seed was planted.

As a backcountry lodge operator, many of these risks were simply the product of a lack of preparation and understanding involved in winter backcountry travel.  Pat and I talked about creating a “course” where we could select the attendees and have our guides teach them some of the language and techniques we use to evaluate the risks we take and how to mitigate them.  Our seed grew into the first “Mr. Pat’s Avalanche Course for Professional Snowboarders” which was well attended by numerous snowboarders and filmers.

John Buffery led the crew in snow testing, including digging pits.

John Buffery leads the crew in digging a pit. .

This year, the course expanded into a larger version of itself attended by 32 filmers, photographers, and riders. We were able to take feedback from year one and combine that with a summer of contemplation to create the syllabus for this year's course.  Taught by Russel Hurlbut of Ice Creek Lodge, Demian Whitley and John Buffery, we were able to move the needle for the attendees with a combination of lectures, guided discussions, lots of field study time, and of course shredding the first lines of the year in the Baldface tenure. It was cool to see some of the glazed over looks from night one as the guides hammered home the intricacies of snow communication turn into understanding when applied outside on the snow the next day.

As the course progressed we were able to share the New York Times’ Snowfall article on the Tunnel Creek avalanche with the class.  Fortunately, my old roommate Joel Martinez formerly of Stevens Pass, helped connect Demian with some additional information and Dem presented a thoughtful and frank discussion of that fatal day.  While heavy, the discussion that followed was exactly what Pat and I had in mind when we came up with the concept.  Young guys like Blake Paul and Sam Taxwood were able to sit and chat with Travis Rice and Eric Jackson about specifics, and the experiences that were shared in the room were both good and bad, but at the end of the night, snowboarding took a giant step.

When the avalanche courses were complete, the crew set out to shred.

The crew ready to shred.

I tend to think of snowboarding, snowboarders, “the industry", — as my community.  And like Nelson, BC, where I live, I want to invest and help better my community. I hope we all do. ‘Cause when we lose a member of the community, I often wonder who was less fortunate, the person lost or those remaining behind. It’s best to come together and support each other in our goals and help each other make the best choices we can.

Which leads us to next year, when we will continue to run the course and if things go right, we may expand it to another location. However, at the end of the day, it is our obligation as professionals, riders, writers, photographers, filmers, riders, and desk jockeys alike to share, communicate, support, correct, and understand EVERYTHING is possible on mother nature’s timeline. To succeed in the game you understand the rules.

Check out the full gallery of highlights above. 

RISK Maturity is the new name of our course of study for professionals.  

Attendees:

Ciszek, Curtis

Gagnon, Oli

Griffin, Liam

Hostynek, Justin

Jackson, Eric

Kotsenburg, Sage

Langlois, Gabe

Leines, Bjorn

Moore, Patrick

Pelosi, Leanne

Rice, Travis

Rencz, Mikey

Fox, Bryan

Grubb, Toby

Backstrom, Iikka

Paradis, Louis-Felix

Rensch, Hayden

Webb, Benjamin

Sweetin, Austen

Smith, Austin

Craven, Dustin

Vanular, Caley

Chomlack, Chad

Liedahl, Dan

Pendleton, Tanner

Taxwood, Sam

Paul, Blake

Jaques, Philippe

Woolworth, Steven

Bertrand , Christian

Check out more about Backcountry Safety here.