Snow had been falling for almost 2 straight weeks when 12 She Jumpers from Washington loaded into the Cascade Powder Guides’ Snowcat on Friday morning, Dec 9. We were all beyond stoked for some great learning, great powder turns, and great lady shredding as we bounced up the long, snowy road to our course site for the next 3 days.
Windy Yurt is tucked in the mountains west of Stevens Pass, WA at 4600 feet, a 2-story deal with a big wood stove, a full kitchen, an upstairs bunk room and its own yurt puppy, Hank. It was a winter wonderland! We arrived mid-day Friday and immediately geared up to start our course with Solveig, our course leader. We spent a couple hours going over companion rescue, which means using your avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe to locate your ski partners.
It was windy and cold outside, but we braved the elements for a sweet turns and practice searches before retiring for our first fabulous meal cooked by Cascade Powder Guide chef-extraordinaire, Mary, and her prep crew, Austin, Aaron and Ryan. After dinner, we were up late into the night getting to know each other, trading ski tips and favorite runs, and running back and forth between the WOOD FIRED SAUNA that Austin had stoked just for us! In spite of different backgrounds, ages, and abilities, we bonded quickly and easily over a shared love of the mountains and playing in the snow.
Day 2 dawned snowy and clear, with a foot of new snow covering our skis and the stoke high. We were joined by our 2nd guide, Liz, as we enjoyed eggs and bacon for breakfast. Then we dove into the meat of the Avy 1 curriculum: terrain selection and safe travel techniques as well as some snow science – avalanche types, terminology, and snow crystal formation and transformation. Some of the gals had been backcountry skiing for years and for some this was their first time in the backcountry, but there was new stuff to learn for everyone – our guides were awesome!
After lunch, we geared up again for some outdoor practice. We skinned near the top of the ridge above the yurt and practiced field observations and dug pits in the snow to see the layers of the snowpack, a key tool for predicting avalanche risk. We also learned several tests of snow stability, such as measuring the “hardness” of each layer with your hand. We found almost 200cm of snow – in early December! Wow! After digging around for a while we took a sublime run in the quickly fading light back to our warm yurt, where dinner was waiting. We spent a couple more hours discussing trip planning and avalanche forecasting in preparation for a whole day outside on Sunday, as the snow continued to pile up outside.
Sunday dawned with even more new snow and reports that the avalanche danger all over the Cascades was “HIGH.” With our guides Liz and Solveig at the helm, after a briefing and planning the day, we headed out with conservative terrain choices in mind. On the first uptrack, we stuck to low slope angle trees, which are very unlikely to avalanche. We observed shooting cracks and the characteristic “whumping” of settling snow – signs that the snowpack was unstable! We also saw evidence of natural avalanche activity, another sign that all the new snow was ready to go. It was a great learning opportunity for us to see firsthand what Liz and Solveig had been teaching us. We also got to check our skills against the professional avalanche forecast from NWAC (the Northwest Avalanche Center) while digging snow pits, and found our predictions were right on.
Given the conditions, we skied in non-avalanche terrain throughout the day – lower angle slopes and heavily treed areas. We got a ton of great turns with Solveig sniffing out the power and Liz bringing up the rear, helping pull people out of powder puddles. Finally, as the afternoon was wearing on, we finished our last glorious run and were met by our trusty snowcat driver, Ryan, for a ride back up to the yurt. There, we packed up our things, wrapped up the course curriculum, and piled back in the snowcat for the way home. We’d come up as 12 strangers that liked to ski, and left as 12 friends with new AIARE Level 1 avalanche certification!
All in all, it was an awesome weekend of learning, skiing, and most of all, camaraderie between awesome women who love to get out, challenge ourselves, and make new friends. Huge thanks to Cascade Powder Guides for hosting us, Solveig and Liz for guiding and teaching us, and She Jumps for putting it all together!
(Cover Photo: SJ CPG Avy 1 Group shot, Anna Condino, other photo credit: Katie Lane)
Thanks so much to Cascade Powder Guides for making this happen!