Alaska Avalanche Resources
Know Before You Go
Equal Opportunity Destroyer
As seen in the Know Before You Go video series, snowboard legend and Alaskan veteran Travis Rice says, “Avalanches don’t discriminate, they are equal opportunity killers.” Whether you are a professional ski guide or a backcountry newbie, it is important to take all the necessary steps to safely enter the wildly vast and complex terrain Alaska has to offer.
- Here are some of the basics to enjoy your Alaskan adventure to the fullest:
- “Get the Gear” - Avalanche rescue gear that is. At a very minimum you should have a Beacon, Shovel, Probe, and ideally an avalanche airbag backpack. It is also important to get the correct gear for traveling on glaciers which can be found on the glaciers education page.
- “Get the Training” - Practice with and understand how all your avalanche gear works. A Level 1 Avalanche Class is a great way to start. Take a class that is approved by the American Avalanche Association or Avalanche Canada, so you know you are getting the highest quality instruction. The Alaska Avalanche School and The American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education both offer great opportunities. If your adventure includes glaciers, it is also a good idea to get training on glacier travel and crevasse rescue skills.
- “Get the Forecast” - Alaska has the biggest and most remote mountain ranges in North America. Depending on your destination, you may be entering an area that has never seen another human. Chances are good that there is no reliable information for areas you are accessing with a bush plane. That being said, it is still important to check the avalanche forecasts from the two Alaskan forecasting resources, the Alaska Avalanche Information Center and the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Information Center. The avalanche forecasts on these websites might give you clues or show trends of areas you will be entering.
- “Get the Picture” - This ties everything together. You have done your research. You know the area like the back of your hand. You practiced your rescue skills. You talked to the nearest locals and ideally are going out with someone who has experience in the Alaskan Mountain ranges. You read the avalanche forecasts closest to your destination. You took an avalanche class and practice with your crevasse rescue gear. You are looking for red flags and natural signs of instability in the snow. And finally you will….
- “Get out of harms way!” - It starts from the get go of setting up your camp. Understanding and using alpha angles is extremely important. A great article about alpha angles from Backcountry Magazine can be found here. The mountains will always be there, and just because this may be the trip of a lifetime doesn’t mean there won’t be another opportunity. People get shut down in Alaska, more so than not. It is standard protocol to back off, especially when mother nature or your gut is giving you the sign to stand down.
Here is a list of resources that can be used to make sure your trip is a safe and memorable experience:
Know Before You Go - This site has a great series of high quality educational avalanche videos, much of which were shot here in Alaska. They have developed the 5 basic steps listed above to stay alive in avalanche terrain.
American Avalanche Association (A3)- This is the US organization that has created guidelines for avalanche courses ranging from Avalanche Awareness Clinics to Recreational Level 1 Courses in addition to courses for Avalanche Professionals like ski guides and State Department of Transportation workers.
Avalanche Canada - The Canadians spend a lot of time in the snow, considering their entire country is covered in it about half the year. In some ways, the United States has modeled avalanche education programs after Canada. When it comes to avalanche education, protocols, and the latest and greatest technologies and techniques they are on top of it all.
Anchorage Avalanche Center - Backcountry information, education, and culture for the greater Anchorage area.