Teen avalanche awareness class may be the first of its kind | VailDaily.com

Teen avalanche awareness class may be the first of its kind

The view the students of the teen-specific avalanche class to the Tenmile Range and the bowls above Vail Pass on Friday in the backcountry of Vail. The students skinned up Uneva Peak to put their newly found knowledge of avalanche safety to test. Terrain observation, weather and snow conditions all go into determining a safe outcome when playing in the backcountry.
Chris Dillmann | cdillmann@vaildaily.com |

AVON — Kids these days are just like you were when you were one of those kids during those days. They’re going to gather in packs and do things that might not be in their best self-interest.

Such as skiing in the backcountry in less than optimal conditions, for example.

Devon Jones is a mom. She’s lots of other things, too, but most of all she’s a mom.

The Jones kids are being raised here, which means backcountry skiing, at least for them.

Devon decided if kids are going to do this — and they are — they should learn to do it right.

She asked Paragon Guides to provide an avalanche awareness class for teenagers. Will Elliott with Paragon Guides said, “Sure!” and the class filled up with 14 little blessings from above quicker than a teenager can say, “YOLO, dude!”

It might be the first all-teenager avalanche class anywhere, or it might not, but it will probably not be the last, Elliott said.

“We’re seeing kids of all kinds getting into the backcountry. There are programs that offer some kind of avalanche education, but this one is a full avalanche awareness course,” Elliott said.

Most kids have more backcountry than you might imagine, or more than some of their parents might want to know about, said Kelli Rohrig, who’s teaching this class.

One youngster was doing laps in the Stone Creek Chutes when dad found out. No skiing for two weeks. Dad finally reasoned that if kids these days are like kids in his day, and they are, his kid is going to keep doing this. A little training was in order.

“These are 14 kids who asked to be in this class. They want to be there,” Rohrig said.

Just say ‘no’

Some parents wanted to come. No, they were told, you may not.

They decided it would better if the class was a peer group, Elliott said, since that’s the force of nature they’ll be dealing with as much as than any other.

There are lots of ways to die in the backcountry. Peer pressure is involved in many of them.

Part of the class is to make sure they have the right equipment. For example, if you have an avalanche beacon, then it might not save your life, but it will help.

Bryce Jones, one of Devon’s blessings from above, wanted to start skiing in the backcountry. Santa was very good to him; he has all the gear he needs, as of Christmas.

They learn about terrain, angles, what to avoid.

“They want you to know about what’s going on, so you’ll know what you’re getting into, how to avoid dangerous situations and how you might get out of them if you do,” Bryce said.

Avoid things such as barren areas and places that could have rocks underneath. They might be more avalanche prone.

“On high avalanche danger days, there are ways through the backcountry that are safe,” Elliott said.

Times they are a-changin’

Three years ago through the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education, having a kids’ avalanche class was unheard of, Rohrig said.

“In the past, it has been a delicate subject,” Rohrig said. “Should kids under 18 have this sort of training?”

Yes, they should. Attitudes change and teens attending avalanche classes happens regularly.

When Rohrig worked in Big Sky ski resort in Montana, she coached big mountain free ride teams. Avalanche training was part of the deal.

“There has been a sea change. People used to think the classes were designed to convince you not to go back there. That’s not true,” Rohrig said.

When this class opened earlier this week, Rohrig was pleasantly surprised to be peppered with questions, mostly science questions. The reasons soon became apparent. First, they’re kids and they want to show off for each other. Second …

“They’re in high school. Their job is to learn and ask questions,” Rohrig said.

At the beginning of the first session the kids got what Rohrig calls “The Talk.”

“This is an adult class and they need to act accordingly,” Rohrig said, and they have.

An avalanche awareness class combines classroom and field time to provide the student with a hands-on introduction to avalanche awareness, avoidance and rescue.

Paragon Guides split the classroom sessions into two sessions instead of one, and pushed it to successive evenings. (Because it’s Christmas break and the kids are skiing during the day.)

By the way, the kids in the class can tell you that local avalanche danger is considerable to moderate, which is good for Colorado. Moderate is 2 on a 5 point scale.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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