Avy training — totally essential if you’re going to ski or snowboard in the backcountry this winter. Yeah, this is a PSA. Photo by Simon Fryer, courtesy Colorado Mountain School.

Avalanche transceivers are generally used — yep, you’ve got this one — on snow. But this weekend, I was prepared to get dirty while hunting down one of these little beacons that backcountry skiers and snowboarders use to find buried (gulp) companions.

Before the snow hit on Thursday, I signed up for the Joe Despres Memorial Dry Land Transceiver Practice that Rocky Mountain Rescue Group is offering this weekend.

That’s a long name, but stay with me here:

Joe Despres was killed when an avalanche carried him and his skiing partner into Yankee Doodle Lake, west of Eldora, in November 2001. According to the accident report, Despres was an experienced backcountry skier. The report even cites a quote from the Daily Camera in which  former Boulder County Sheriff George Epp says “If you try to get a lesson out of this…the mountains can be dangerous no matter how prepared you are.”

The accident report is grim and wild. I’m amazed that Despres’ partner managed to swim out of the frozen lake (the avy busted through 10 inches of ice on the lake’s surface), flip his beacon into search mode and then, unable to find a signal for Despres, hike 5 miles out to summon a rescue for his friend.

It’s not a happy ending. But for me, a memorial transceiver practice is an important reminder to not fuck around with backcountry skiing.

It might be tempting to just go for it, head out without a shovel, not invest in a beacon (pricey!) or avalanche courses (also pricey!). Maybe you’ve done it a few times and survived. But please, here’s my simple PSA: Don’t fuck around with avalanches.

As one of the forecasters at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center told me earlier this week, you can mitigate a lot of the danger if you educate yourself. And sometimes, that education isn’t expensive. Tonight and tomorrow night, you can learn some transceiver basics from RMR for free, even if you don’t own one — they have loaners, but you must register.

It’s one step in a life-long process — hopefully a long life-long process — of learning how to stay safe out there.

Info: Friday or Saturday at 7 p.m.; meet at the Chautauqua Ranger Cottage. Free. Registration info at

Flying high
This Saturday, there’s another bouldering competition at The Spot.

For this edition, Highballs and Highlines, there’s some pretty rad entertainment between the end of the regular climbing and the finals — the highline competition.

A few years back, I watched Andy Lewis, no longer of Boulder, stick the first backflip in a slacklining competition at Highballs and Highlines. It was rad. And there were a bunch of other rad slacklining tricks had, too, all high above the floor of the Spot.

Did I mention it’s rad?

Info: Adult climbing starts at 7 p.m. Saturday, slacklining probably happens around 9. There’s Avery Beer and Wahoo’s Fish Tacos if you compete (or get there early enough as a spectator). $30 if you climb, $10 just to watch.

More backcountry

Did I scare the poo out of you about backcountry skiing? I’m sorry.

Wait, no I’m not. PSAs are supposed to be a little scary. Kinda like STDs. And PSAs about STDs — super scary.

But don’t be so scared that it stops you from doing something beautiful and rewarding. If you go to the talk at REI Boulder tonight, Alpine Touring/Backcountry Skiing with the Colorado Mountain Club, you’ll pick up some inspiration and tips. CMC instructor (and all-around bad-ass mountain gal) Cindy Gagnon will tell you what’s involved and how to do this stuff as safely as possible.

This one’s free, too. You’re so worth that price.

Info: 6:30 Friday.

blog comments powered by Disqus