Avalanche Awareness Snowshoe with NWAC and USFS
In my ongoing quest to overcome my fear of snow, I attended several avalanche awareness events this year. My favorite was a guided snowshoe with the Forest Service and NWAC at Snoqualmie Pass this February. I’d only snowshoed once before and was really into it, but figured it would be worth taking a real course for my first snow exploration of the year. We arrived early at the ranger station and kept warm while we waited for the class to start. However, I got caught by surprise that the 90-minute course we expected was going to be 4-5 hours long. Whoops!
Our group of 10 was led by a volunteer from NWAC and supplemented with a Forest Service employee. Due to the conditions that day (high avalanche danger), we kept to the Gold Creek Basin to avoid potentially hazardous slopes. I appreciated this meandering, 4-hour trek with stops to discuss the snow around us, adjust gear (since some of us were relative newbies to snowshoeing), take pictures, and look at wildlife signs.
Highlights of the snowshoe included: examination of snow layers by digging or looking at nearby cornices, essential information about tree wells and less than obvious snow hazards, and the basics of what to do if you’re caught in an avalanche (including creating a space for air if you’re buried, not to struggle and cause yourself to sink further, and touching on generally how to locate your partner if you have SPOT devices). At our turnaround point, we greeted with fantastic blue skies, suessical snow-capped trees, and beautiful views of climbing routes on nearby mountains.
In addition to avalanches, we also covered basic snowshoe usage and navigation, trip planning, and route selection to help demystify snow recreation in the mountains. Now that snow has begun to return to the Pacific Northwest it’s exciting to get to apply what I’ve learned and feel good about getting out there.
If you’ve never taken an avalanche awareness course or event, or if it’s been a while, you definitely should! It’s been almost a year (WOW!), I just attended an event with PNWOW and NWAC to refresh my understanding of the forecast and necessary avalanche information. It never hurts to fill in the gaps you lose in the snowless months.
PLUS, the season for guided courses is here! You can sign up for winter snowshoe walks in Washington through Discover Northwest from January until March. In addition to the avalanche snowshoe we participated in, they offer beginner courses, photography walks, and courses specifically for children.
Northwest Avalanche Center (NWAC's official website)
CalTopo (A great resource for mapping, more useful for understanding “aspects” and how they relate to avalanches)
Discover Your Northwest (This is your portal to guided programs in Washington State)
REI Avalanche Awareness Workshops (Find a workshop near you through REI)