February 11-12, 2023 – NSP Level 1 Avy Class

Mid-February had arrived, and with it was our first NSP Level 1 Avalanche course that we’d offered through patrol in the last several years. And although conditions weren’t prime for holding an avalanche class, it was good to be up at the mountain for a couple of days of fun. As usual, I pulled in early at the Pass with Shaun (who was on duty for the weekend for SPY) and we unloaded our gear into the patrol room.

Saturday morning at the Pass

Soon, other patrollers and folks taking the class arrived as well. After grabbing the gear we would need for the day one, including beacons, probes and shovels, we headed over to the lodge to get oriented and discuss plans for the day. A short time later, we headed up on EPA, dividing the groups into two for the morning. One group would go over tranceivers and probing, and another was set for digging and evaluating snow pits as well as strategic shoveling. Brian, John and I led the snow pit group and we headed out to Lighthouse Knob to dig some pits.

The first crew digging pits at Lighthouse Knob

The weather was absolutely gorgeous during the morning, and as suspected we didn’t find anything too interesting in the pits with respect to weak layers. Numerous extended column tests didn’t produce fracture/propagation, but the students still found a lot of useful information in the pits. After a couple of hours, the two groups switched, and the folks from the transceiver group headed our way and we did it (digging pits) all over again.

Jenn, Brian and Shannon enjoying a break
Jen, Emily and Alex working in a snow pit

The morning went by quickly, and soon it was well past noon and time for the students to do a little work on their own with companion rescue before we all met up below the Sleepy headwall for some formal organized probing to round out the day. Hannah and Laurie led the conversation with the group, and soon the commands of “probe left, probe center and probe right” rang out.

Students probing along the line
Hannah surveying the probe line above Sleepy

After a healthy dose of organized probing, it was time to call it a day and we headed down about the same time as patrol was completing sweep. It was a good end to our first day of the class, and I was looking forward to a well-earned beer. My offering for the evening was a tasty McKenzie Hazy IPA from McKenzie Brewing.

Patrollers heading in from sweep
McKenzie Hazy IPA

After hanging out in the patrol room for awhile and enjoying some good conversation, it was time for Shaun and I to head down to Oakridge for the evening. Brian and Shannon were kind enough to let us stay over at their place, and it was nice to have a shorter drive the next morning for day number two. We had a good evening filled with good food and wine, and then headed back to the hill early the next morning. The students headed out with a few instructors on tours to put together all the information from the in-town lectures and yesterday’s field day, while Hutch and I recruited the SPY to help set up the final avalanche scenario.

Shuan and a couple of SPY at the top of EPA
Hutch demonstrating an avalanche scenario to the SPY

Setting up the scenario is always a lot of work, but I think this year we made the most realistic looking avalanche we’ve made in several classes. Hutch dug out an awesome crown face the day prior, and the SPY did a great job of climbing up and down the slope and churning up the snow to make the debris look realistic. We put out several clues, buried six “victims” and things were pretty much ready to go by 12:30.

The SPY churning up the snow

Around 1:30-2:00 pm, the class met at the top of Peak 2, and we went over the logistics of organized rescue as well as the various tasks associated with it. Before we headed in and turned the students loose, I snapped a group picture of everyone at the top of Southbound.

The class prior to the scenario

A few moments later, we headed in and the “rescue” unfolded. Toby was kind enough to act as the incident commander, and formed the teams prior to entering the scenario. The first team in was looking for the victims that may have had beacons, and did a great job honing in on them quickly.

Tyler digging for a buried beacon
Toby acting as the Incident Commander

A short time later, a search team was deployed to strategically probe around clues as well as uphill of trees and around the toe of the avalanche. They did an awesome job, communicated with their team leader and IC well, and found a few more “victims.”

Julie spot probing near a tree
The class in action

 It was fun watching the class unfold, and I snapped several pictures to document the action. All told, including setting up the scenario, I must have climbed up and down the slope at least a half a dozen times if not more.

Grayson spot probing
The teams in action

Finally, after there wasn’t any beacon signals anymore and all clues/likely catchment areas had been spot probed, the team setup an organized probe line to find the last two remaining “victims.”

The instructors looking on
Looking down on the class working through the scenario

Prior to setting up the probe line, I took advantage of the great light and snapped a few candid pictures of Brian as well as Hannah and Shannon with the trees along West Peak as a back drop…

Brian enjoying a quick break
Shannon and Hannah enjoying the sun

The students setup the formal probe line, and did a great job, eventually finding the last two “victims” in and near the toe of the avalanche.

Hutch heading to the probe line
The instructor crew hanging out up top

After the class, we did a debrief at the top of Peak 2 as we usually do. All things considered, I think this class performed as well or better than any class we’ve had in the last several years with respect to the final scenario. Once the debrief was over, folks headed down with gear in tow to the patrol room. Since we weren’t in uniform, Tyler, James, Brian and I headed down via SDN for our final run of the day, one of my favorite parts of the avalanche class.

Tyler cruising below West Peak Saddle
James on the RTS runout

The snow wasn’t the best, but it was still fun and we enjoyed the run back to the area. Down at the bottom, I was happy to have a cold beer waiting for me as we wrapped up our day. This day’s offering was a cold and refreshing Alpha Centuri IPA from Hop Valley Brewing, and it hit the spot!

Alpha Centuri from Hop Valley Brewing

Like the day prior, I enjoyed socializing with patrol for a half hour or so after the day was over, and then it was time to grab Shaun and hit the road. With all the effort that goes into planning and executing the class, it’s always a bit of a relief when the weekend is over, and this year was no different. All in all, it was another great weekend at the Pass. Here’s a parting shot of Tyler shredding through the terrain below West Peak Saddle on his way back to the patrol room.

Tyler deep into SDN