Teens learn how to avoid avalanches Steve Udd, left, a parent of a student in the program, and Gwyneth Lyman, 16, send small roller balls of snow ahead of them as they navigate a steep slope on snowshoes during an avalanche awareness field trip for teenagers, at Mount Baker, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Teens learn how to avoid avalanches
Lexile

Walker Smith has been skiing in-bounds at resorts since he was young, but lately the Seattle teen has become more interested "in getting tracks where no one else has really gone."
 
He knows backcountry travel comes with avalanche risks, he said. So under a brilliant blue sky recently, he and a dozen teens hiked out into the snowy landscape outside the boundaries of Mount Baker ski resort to learn how to identify avalanche terrain and spot warning signs.
 
"It's not 100 percent safe in the backcountry so you have to know about all the dangers," said Smith, 17, a member of the Mountaineers Adventure Club, a Seattle-based teen program that partnered with Northwest Avalanche Center to organize the avalanche awareness field trip.
 
As more young adults head out of bounds to ski, snowboard or hike in the winter, experts are targeting their message about avalanche safety to an even younger audience. They're trying to reach kids early - in middle or high school, sometimes even in elementary school - to build their knowledge about snow and avalanches.
 
"They're young, they're impressionable. They don't have a pattern of bad behavior yet. By spending more time on youth, we feel like we can make a difference in changing behavior," said Scott Schell, program director of the Northwest Avalanche Center, a Seattle-based non-profit and federal government partnership.
 
The center, which issues weather forecasts and avalanche warnings, also offers about 200 free or low-cost education classes each winter to church groups, schools, shops and other organizations. About one-third are geared toward teens or young adults.
 
"We feel that working with younger people is the way to affect behavior down the line," since they're likely to be lifelong users of the outdoors, Schell said. "We tell them that most of the time it's safe and sometimes it's not. Learning when it's safe and when it's dangerous is one of the key takeaways."
 
At least 14 people have been killed in slides so far this season. The three most recent deaths happened Jan. 24 in Washington and Wyoming. It has been the deadliest January for slides in nearly 20 years, according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, the central archive for avalanche accidents in the country. On an average, 27 people die in avalanches across the U.S. each year. The center doesn't track the ages of all fatalities, but avalanche deaths typically involve men between 20 and 45, the center said.
 
After a 2003 avalanche killed three young men in Utah, the Utah Avalanche Center created a free avalanche awareness program for middle and high school students. The hour-long program includes a high-energy video that helps them understand how to have fun in the mountains while avoiding avalanches.
 
Better gear, more media coverage and rising lift tickets at resorts have made the backcountry more accessible and appealing to a wider range of people.
 
A lot of the kids may not go into the backcountry, but the idea is that "when someone talks them into getting into the backcountry 15 years from now, they'll have this knowledge that they've stored away," said Paul Diegel, executive director of the Utah Avalanche Center.
 
More than 200,000 students in Utah have been exposed to the "Know Before You Go" program over the last decade. And the program has spread to other states.
 
In Jackson, Wyoming, the American Avalanche Institute, which targeted high school students, has expanded its program to middle schools as well. It runs several free avalanche programs for kids 10 to 18, which is funded by the Steve Romeo Memorial Fund.
 
Lessons are shorter with more hands-on activities. The goal is repetition and learning progresses through the age groups. "We try and send our younger, hipper instructors who are easier to relate to," said Sarah Carpenter, co-owner and teacher at the American Avalanche Institute.
 
The message to younger age groups is to stay in bounds and avoid the backcountry, Carpenter said. But with older teens, "our goal is not to preach abstinence. As the kids get older, they're going to go into the backcountry."
 
The goal is to give them good habits and skills to build a foundation, she said. The message is, if they duck under a rope or venture out of bounds, the conditions are going to be very different.
 
For the teens, ages 14 to 18, with the Mountaineers Adventure Club, the day began with a review of the avalanche forecast, which said conditions were moderate.
 
Eric Gullickson, an avalanche instructor with the Northwest Avalanche Center, led the group as they set off, snow crunching under foot, toward Artist Point on Mount Baker, about 130 miles northeast of Seattle.
 
As they hiked, Gullickson asked the group what the difference is between snow inside ski resorts and out of bounds. The teens chimed in that ski resorts control the snow by grooming it and skiers and boarders are packing down the snow.
 
"The snow is always changing so you always have to be assessing," he said. "As you're walking around, keep an eye on the slopes. In your mind, think: 'Do I want to go there? What's a good place to go?'"
 
Gullickson then used a shovel to dig a snow pit, carving a 6-foot vertical face in the snow to reveal the layers of snowpack. The teens moved closer as Gullickson pointed out the hard layer of snow between two soft layers.
 
"It's good to know," said Rowan Forsythe, 15, of Seattle. "The more knowledge you can have, it's another tool."

Filed Under:  
Assigned 20 times
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is learning how to avoid avalanches better than trying to survive them?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (32)
  • morganm-pla
    2/11/2016 - 10:30 p.m.

    A group of kids are interested in the local skiing and take into consideration the chance of avalanches. Smith who is knowledgeable about the subject took a group into the backcountry and went through the dangers and signs of the possible avalanche. The local centers also offer a wide variety of classes to get oneself to know the dangers that are out there and what to look for. This then relates to civic engagement because these classes are looking to inform the younger age groups to try and rid any bad habits that could form over the years. These kids who would take the class would then be knowledgeable when they are out in the winter weather but they will also be able to move the information along for others to know as well. The more people know about the dangers of avalanches, the better and the move lives that could be saved.

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    2/12/2016 - 01:13 a.m.

    The teens might have been teaching and learning how to avoid avalanches when they spot one coming on their way because teens wouldn't be able to survive and avalanche because it would be easier to avoid them. The people would have to get the avalanches to be avoided than to be surviving them because people wouldn't be able to survive an avalanche because avoiding them would have to be taught and learned. The teens might have been able to get the lower grades about the avalanches because the younger children would get killed in an avalanche if they aren't taught. People might have been getting younger children to be learning about avalanches because younger children would easily be able to escape an avalanche if they ever see the sign of any avalanche coming.
    Critical Thinking Question: Why is learning how to avoid avalanches better than trying to survive them?
    Answer: Because trying to survive the avalanches would kill you because the speed that will be killing the person which learning how to avoid an avalanche would be easier to do if they ever learn to avoid an avalanche coming at their way.

  • matts-pla
    2/16/2016 - 06:53 p.m.

    Exploring our own back yard is something most people had done while they where little. Thus making it no surprise that more young adults and teens are craving an adventure like discovering the back country of america.With the help of others though, especially Mountaineers Adventure Club that has helped in developing classes to make people more aware of the risks such as avalanches. Making this class an option for young adults is half the battle,it is up to the engagement of these citizens for them to get involved and know about the dangers so that they can tell other people about the severity of avalanches.

  • lucib-bag
    2/17/2016 - 07:13 p.m.

    Avalanches are scary and dangerous but, with correct knowledge about them you can go hiking in the back country and be safe and have fun.

  • laurenc-bag
    2/18/2016 - 09:05 p.m.

    It's better to learn how to avoid avalanches better than trying to survive them because you know the precautions to take to keep yourself safe. However, if you had no clue about the risks of venturing off into the backcountry, there's a huge chance that you wouldn't survive.

  • laurenc-bag
    2/18/2016 - 09:10 p.m.

    It's better to learn how to survive avalanches better than trying to survive them because you know the precautions to take to be safe. (I got a little confused on the 'tweet' part."

  • TaylorSeifert-Ste
    3/06/2016 - 04:39 p.m.

    Learning how to avoid avalanches is better than trying to survive them because people cannot control nature. If people learn the signs of an avalanche and get away from the area before it actually happens, they will most likely be fine. If a person finds themselves in an avalanche, they then have to fight against nature and try to find a way to survive. If they had looked for warning signs, they may have been able to avoid the avalanche altogether.

  • travond-fel
    3/09/2016 - 02:16 p.m.

    so u can just not be in one in the first place

  • jacih-fel
    3/09/2016 - 02:18 p.m.

    It's better to learn how to avoid avalanches better than trying to survive them because you know the precautions to take to keep yourself safe. However, if you had no clue about the risks of venturing off into the backcountry, there's a huge chance that you wouldn't survive.

  • johnj-fel
    3/09/2016 - 02:18 p.m.

    Learning to avoid avalanches is better than trying to survive them because you would be better prepared and if you know how to avoid avalanches you won't have to worry about having to 'survive' one anyway.

Take the Quiz Leave a comment
ADVERTISEMENT