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
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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. They were there 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. It is a Seattle-based teen program. It 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. He is program director of the Northwest Avalanche Center. It's a Seattle-based non-profit and federal government partnership.
 
The center issues weather forecasts and avalanche warnings. It 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. January was the deadliest month for slides in nearly 20 years. This is according to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. It is the central archive for avalanche accidents in the country. On 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. It was for middle and high school students. The hour-long program includes a high-energy video. It helps the teens 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. He is 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.
 
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. She is 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. It said conditions were moderate.
 
Eric Gullickson is an avalanche instructor with the Northwest Avalanche Center. He led the group as they set off, snow crunching under foot, toward Artist Point on Mount Baker. It is 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. He carved 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."

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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 (28)
  • keithg-wes
    2/11/2016 - 02:34 p.m.

    Learning how to survive avalanche is better than trying to survive them because what if you don't live during the avalanchethen you arent alive anymore. I would train or learn how to survive

  • samuelr-2-bar
    2/11/2016 - 04:55 p.m.

    Learning how to avoid avalanches is better than trying to survive an avalanche because it is easier to just not be in an avalanche in the first place. It is better to avoid an avalanche because ending up in an avalanche is a very stressful scary situation. The reason this stress comes into play is that even if you learn how to survive an avalanche you may be very scared and stressed and not able to remember what you learned about surviving one. The article states that "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." This shows that a majority of the people getting in avalanches or going skiing or snowboarding are children. Children are more likely to forget what they learned about surviving if they are panicking. Which shows that they could have just avoided the situation by not getting stuck in the avalanche in the first place.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. Learning how to avoid avalanches is better than trying to survive an avalanche because it is easier to just not be in an avalanche in the first place.

  • jadena-hol
    2/12/2016 - 08:05 a.m.

    i think it good that teen are prtetning self. it showed hapen whif eveone .that all

    • camerons1-ren
      3/08/2016 - 04:56 p.m.

      Learning to avoid them is better because you can't possibly get hurt or killed by an avalanche if you're nowhere near the actual thing. The passage says that 27 people die each year because of avalanches. If you can see the places with a risk you can avoid becoming one of those people.

  • tinan-
    2/16/2016 - 10:30 a.m.

    It is better learning because when you actually get to an avalanche, you would be too scared and cant think of how to help yourself.

  • danielab-hol
    2/16/2016 - 04:18 p.m.

    If you avoid avalanches then nothing will happen to you and you won't end up in one but if you don't avoid them then you will end up in a situation where you are in an avalanche so it is important to learn about them so you don't end up in an avalanche and trying to survive.So it is more important you learn to avoid then then to be in one and try to survive because then you will probably die because most people don't survive avalanches you will be lucky to be one of the few people who do.

  • william1108-yyca
    2/16/2016 - 07:04 p.m.

    Learning how to avoid avalanches is better than trying to survive an avalanche because it is easier to just not be in an avalanche in the first place. It is better to avoid an avalanche because ending up in an avalanche is a very stressful scary situation. The reason this stress comes into play is that even if you learn how to survive an avalanche you may be very scared and stressed and not able to remember what you learned about surviving one. The article states that "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." This shows that a majority of the people getting in avalanches or going skiing or snowboarding are children. Children are more likely to forget what they learned about surviving if they are panicking. Which shows that they could have just avoided the situation by not getting stuck in the avalanche in the first place.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. Learning how to avoid avalanches is better than trying to survive an avalanche because it is easier to just not be in an avalanche in the first place.

  • ziont-orv-orv
    2/19/2016 - 09:30 a.m.

    Critacal thinking question:
    Because prevention is better than when it happens. Just like diseases.

  • marisola-Orv
    2/20/2016 - 09:41 a.m.

    It's so cool that teens are learning to avoid avalaches so they can still snowboard but the safe and responsible way to snowboard.

  • annay-
    2/22/2016 - 08:09 a.m.

    Avoiding avalanches is better than trying to survive them because some people can't survive them. It's safer to know that an avalanche is coming so you can prepare for it than to not know one's coming and try your best to survive.

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