Free avalanche awareness class offered at Fraser Library
November 3, 2016
On Thursday Nov. 10, Jamie Wolter, Director of Mountain Operations for Granby Ranch, will be presenting an avalanche awareness class at 5 p.m. at the Fraser Library. The class is free and open to the public and is intended to provide citizens with basic avalanche awareness.
The class is not a formal avalanche safety-training course and is intended to, "raise awareness about avalanche hazards," Wolter said. "And to get kids particularly to recognize the hazards and how to avoid them. How not to put themselves at risk." According to Wolter if a skier is caught in an avalanche and buried there is a roughly 50 percent chance that individual will die.
Because so many youngsters who live in Grand County grow up skiing and snowboarding from a young age they can often tackle difficult terrain. As such their ability to ride extreme slopes can exceed their knowledge in terms of avalanche safety.
"In a lot of ski communities our kids are phenomenal athletes," Wolter said. "Their skiing and riding ability is such that they can easily get into avalanche terrain. Sooner or later they or their friends will come up with the idea to go into a closed area, or duck a rope. They can go places there are hazards and we want them to know there are risks. We also want them to be prepared."
The class is based on the Know Before You Go avalanche awareness program, which utilizes a five-step safety system to reduce the hazards posed by avalanches.
Wolter, an experienced backcountry skier, is quite familiar with the dangerous nature of avalanches. Over his many years in Colorado he has worked on nine separate fatality avalanche incidents and has tragically lost some of his own friends to the dangers of the backcountry. "It's really sad," Wolter said with solemnity. "It is hard. I'd be thrilled to never go on another avalanche rescue or be involved in another avalanche fatality. But I don't think that's realistic."
He has worked in the avalanche and outdoor education industry since 1988, spending most of his adult life as an avalanche educator and ski patroller. He is a professional member of the American Avalanche Association and has spent significant portions of his life as an instructor with the Colorado Outward Bound School.
Wolter sees a growing avalanche danger created by the public's love of social media, especially with kids. "Everybody is trying to one up one another on social media," Wolter said. "Everybody wants to post a picture or a short video of them skiing the gnarliest deepest line on some steep ridge. I think the social media phenomenon is causing people to take risks they might not otherwise take."
Wolter also highlighted the problem created by uneducated skiers and snowboarders riding in the backcountry and getting lucky by not kicking off avalanches.
"When you ski or ride an avalanche slope, and it is steep enough to slide and doesn't, your risk taking behavior is rewarded," he said. "When that happens over and over you become more confident, when really you are just getting lucky. There is a false sense of security.
"When people go out and it doesn't go wrong they don't look back and say, 'I got lucky', they look back and think 'I really know my stuff'. People can have a false impression that they are so good at skiing or riding they could out ski or ride an avalanche. It's just not true."