March 15, 2017
Words by Jonathan Trask
Most people know the employees of Gear Coop to be avid climbers, but when the days get shorter and snow begins to fall in the local mountains, Coopers set out by the van-full to grab what tracks they can in the mountains of California. From the San Bernardino range to the powder promised land of the Eastern Sierra, skiing and snowboarding is deeply ingrained in Coop culture. Many Coopers head into the backcountry when the resorts are too full, or when the snow is premium. As Coop Veteran Justin D’Altorio says, “There is nothing like skinning up a peak and earning your own turns.”
Naturally, when the call went out that the Arc’teryx and DPS were going to sponsor an avalanche certification for employees, many applied. The course was hosted by the National Ski Patrol in conjunction with the Socal Snow Avalanche Center and consisted of two classroom days and two days out in the field applying concepts and performing drills.
The classroom sessions were very laid back and filled with essential information, massive plates of nachos, and 24 ounce beer pours. We learned the science behind what conditions can trigger an avalanche and what can happen if we are unprepared for such an event. I don’t think I was the only one to experience a little (healthy) anxiety amid onslaught of information and horror stories. After two nights and eight hours of lecture, a full notebook, and an eager group of coopers, we were ready to apply our knowledge on the slopes.
Two weeks later we pulled into the Mt. Baldy parking lot for our field sessions. The slopes leading down to the parking lot and leading up to the notch looked like spring conditions and we were interested to see how we were going to apply our new found skills. Thankfully, by the time we got up the lift there was a good base and we were prepared for a fun day of learning. Our first day consisted of avalanche terrain observation, backcountry travel, and learning how to dig a pit and assess the snow layers and conditions. After class was out, we got to ride some awesome terrain that Mt. Baldy offers and then we wrapped up the night with a fundraiser and movie premier.
On the last day of the course we got comfortable using our beacons and shovels. From strategic digging to buried beacon searches, we drilled in groups throughout the day. Ski Patrollers gave us many compliments on how we as Coopers worked well as a team. The last drill of the day was a scenario in which we skied up to a slope and had to find body bags hidden under the snow. The Coopers came out on top with the best time of the day. The mix of team work, applying knowledge and learning helped to make the day one to remember. Knowledge in the backcountry is priceless and if you know what to look for you can stay safe and alive to ski another day.
The Importance of Avalanche Safety
Words by Tess Keller
I grew up in Colorado at the base of a mountain. The snow was always fluffy and light, and avalanches consistently closed mountain passes. With an abundance of ski resorts, I never fancied hiking to ski. In college I took my first Avalanche 1 course and backcountry skiing became more and more enthralling. Turns out the science behind snow is absolutely fascinating! No information was enough information. Not only did I learn how to try and avoid The Big A through touring tactics, terrain analysis, and layer evaluation, we also saved peers buried in the snow in a controlled environment.
In July I moved to California, and experienced my first Sierra storm. I was absolutely blown away at the difference between what I was used to and the quicksand that Californians call “powder.” I immediately knew that a lot of what I learned in Colorado might not transfer over to the snowpack in California, and vise versa. By taking my second Avi 1 in this new state, I got the chance to further develop my search and rescue skills, practice safe skiing techniques in variable groups, AND learn about California snow trends from the experts of the area. And, in my opinion, it’s always a success when you make new ski buddies. 🙂
A Note from Our CEO
Words by Terry Lee
I’ve been skiing and snowboarding on and off for over 25 years. Recently, I found myself being utterly bored at ski resorts. It seemed sisyphean to spend entire days riding up lifts only to ski down the same runs over and over again.
Luckily, at Gear Coop we have a pretty rabid crew of backcountry skiers. Ski touring the backcountry has rekindled my love for the sport and venturing out to remote areas. When you spend all day skinning and climbing to earn that one run at the end of the day, you truly savor every turn, every drop and every line. A descent may last as little as 20 minutes, but I get so much more out of that one run than a whole day at the resort. And, there is so much more than the descent. Skinning on skis is a truly amazing way to travel. Gliding across deep snow out in the vast unspoiled wilderness and snow-covered peaks is ethereal.
While rock climbing has been my passion for the last 15 years, the allure of backcountry skiing has captured my soul. Climbing and ski touring are similar in so many ways. They both combine adventure, athleticism, skill, knowledge, problem solving, adrenaline, risk and camaraderie. For my climbing brethren and outdoor friends who have yet to discover it, I cannot recommend it enough.
So for this RadVenture, what better way could we provide some insight into the sport than to share our team experience at our avalanche safety course. “Avi 1” is essential training for getting out into the backcountry for snowsports. We teamed up with Jeff Pierce of the National Ski Patrol and Allen Giernet of the SoCal Snow Avalanche Center and did it the Gear Cooper way, with plenty of beer and fun with friends old and new.
To get a real taste of backcountry skiing, join us at our annual So Cal Backcountry Session for clinics on backcountry skiing and splitboarding. It’s one of the only events of its kind combining on-snow clinics and gear demos in a day. More info here. And join an Avi course with your local National Ski Patrol and with guide outfits everywhere.
A huge thank you to DPS and Arc’teryx for sponsoring this RadVenture! DPS is making some of the most advanced skis in the world. And Arc’teryx apparel and gear continue to set the bar as best in class.