February 10-11, 2024 – NSP Level 2 Avalanche Class

After a month or so of planning, the NSP Level 2 Avalanche course was finally here. This year’s crew was a good one, and after a couple of in-town classroom sessions including trip planning, the class was ready for the weekend at the Pass. Hutch, who was the lead instructor, along with Brian and I, had a fun couple of days of activities planned for the group, and even though there wasn’t a bunch of fresh snow to greet us for the weekend the weather was looking to be beautiful. We spent the first hour or so in the lodge with the group, and after they did some additional trip planning, we caught the chair to the top of EPA with the goal of heading out of the area for some touring and learning.

Riding the EPA chair on a gorgeous morning
Meghan and Megan at the top of EPA

The sun was out, and we arrived at the top of EPA about the same time as the rest of the Patrol 2 crew. Since I was helping to lead the class, Devin had volunteered to hill chief for me, and it was kind of nice to get a “play” day in for a change.

Jenn ready for a great day
Jenn posing at the top of EPA

I snapped several photos of patrollers at the top of EPA, and the sun was bursting out above the fog that was hanging down on the east side. The below shot of Emily, Haley, Michael and James was one example of several…

Group shot at the top of EPA

After snapping some photos, the class gathered at Kris Kross by navigating to specific GPS coordinates, then did some beacon practice before donning skins and working our way up to the top of Peak 2 and then down to the saddle for an approach to West Peak. A few inches of fresh snow coating the trees made for some pretty pictures as we headed up from the saddle.

Jon and Ben on the track to West Peak
Shannon below a sunburst on West Peak ridge

A few minutes later and we were standing on top of West Peak, admiring the views and discussing terrain options. Our second group made their way up a few minutes later, and before jumping into the next task, I snapped a couple of pictures including one looking back towards the Pass from the top of West Peak and one of everyone including Hutch and Brian.

Looking back towards the area
The crew at the top of West Peak

The next step was for the students to perform snowpit assessments to determine snow stability — which resulted in super stable snow, which was a real shocker given the bomber snowpack. Nevertheless, it was good practice and it’s always good to dig a pit and perform an extended column test and examine the layers in the pack.

Conducting pit tests on West Peak
Group shot before dropping off the top

Once the snowpits were dug and tests performed, Hutch took off to hide a couple of beacons for a scenario down in SDN while the rest of us split into two groups led by Brian and I. We made some fun turns down the West Peak lift line, and the snow quality was actually pretty decent.

Heading down the liftline
Skinning up to respond to an avy “incident”

About halfway down, Hutch radioed in with coordinates of the “avalanche” and the groups switched from ski mode to skins and headed up to respond. We toured back up to the ridge and then dropped in to respond. After some confusion on the coordinates that was cleared up with another radio call, the groups responded to both locations and found the buried targets. A ski out through the trees and RTS runout brought us back to the area and we headed back up to work on some additional beacon drills.

Brian on the RTS runout

My group headed back up to EPA and then to the bottom of RTS to work on beacon practice. The students buried 2 beacons 3 feet deep or so in the RTS runout and took turns finding and digging them out, working on multiple burial scenarios. An hour or so of doing this brought us to the end of the day so we headed down. We were just in time to help with sweep, and I ended up on Twilight after bringing a sled from the bottom.

Jenn celebrating finding a target
Ben and RTS

After sweep, we had our evening meeting and then it was time to enjoy a cold beer and hang in the patrol room with the avy class to debrief the day and discuss the plans for tomorrow. I enjoyed a tasty Canadian-style lager from Oakshire Brewing, which hit the spot.

Visit Victoria Lager from Oakshire

After plans were firmed up for the following day, I headed down the hill to Oakridge with Shaun to stay at Brian and Shannon’s. They whipped up a tasty dinner of lasagna, and we enjoyed some good company and discussion on possible ski touring opportunities for the coming spring before hitting the sack and getting ready for Sunday. Sunday morning dawned early, and after a quick cup of coffee we hit the road and found ourselves in the lodge again readying the class for the day. The morning consisted of a multiple beacon proficiency test. Brian and I buried the beacons, and then the students participated in a timed drill individually in the Tree Farm where we had the beacons buried.

Hanging in the bump shack while waiting for beacon drills
Pulling targets after beacon drills

 While the students tested individually, the rest of the crew worked on strategic shoveling, snowpit analysis and organized probing. The final scenario for the afternoon, which was setup by Hutch and Hannah, consisted of multiple victims in an avalanche in the usual place on SDN. One difference from the level 1 class was that the incident wasn’t controlled for the students and they weren’t fully aware of what it entailed. When the call came in over the radio after lunch for the avalanche, they had to respond accordingly.

Shannon directing folks during the scenario
The team working on the event

The group designated Toby as the incident commander and he orchestrated a swift response to the scenario. He had Shannon lead a responding team that entered the incident to look for victims with beacons, and subsequent teams of two responded by spot probing around various clues and uphill of likely catchment areas.

Jon spot probing near a clue
The team working the scenario

It was fun to watch the students work the scenario, and they did remarkably well. Victims with beacons were all found within short order of them entering the scene, and soon others were found by probing clues.

Matt and Jenn near the bottom of the slide
Looking back up at Brian observing
Matt & Jenn
Sarah scribing and Toby managing the scene

After finding all the victims associated with beacons and/or clues, the final step was to setup an organized probe line and find the remaining victim. The group assimilated into a probe line quickly and made short work probing the toe, successfully finding the target in short order.

Probe line work
Probing for the final target

After the incident, everyone hauled gear and equipment back to the top of Peak 2, and we headed down for a debrief. Brian and I took SDN back to the base, and met up with the others in the patrol room. It felt good to have successfully led another avalanche class at the Pass, as well as prepare several more folks for leadership roles within the patrol. The students still had one in-town lecture remaining, but generally our work was done. Soon, the rest of the patrol came in after sweeping the hill, and after the evening meeting, it was time to hit the road after another great weekend at the Pass! Here’s a parting shot from the weekend…

Starburst on the top of EPA