Backcountry Women: Let’s face it, backcountry skiing is trendy right now – Avalanche education with SAFE AS.

By Anne Cleary, Mad Trees

BCA Ambassador Lel Tone says: “let’s face it, backcountry skiing is trendy right now. What are the implications of that?” Lel kicked off last season’s SAFE AS clinics with this provocative question to get attendees to think about the importance of avalanche education.

SAFE AS provides one-day introduction to avalanche safety courses taught by pro big mountain skiers and snowboarders. The courses are geared towards beginner backcountry riders, but because the instructors are as experienced as Lel Tone, Elyse Saugstad, Jackie Passo, Ingrid Backstrom, Robin Van Gyn, and Michelle Parker combined, the conversations are relevant to everyone who travels in the backcountry.

SAFE AS emphasizes our own empowerment and decision making as the key in coming home at the end of every day. #sendandreturn.  

Ingrid Backstrom talks about her role as a SAFE AS instructor.

For me as a teacher, I learn a TON from this course. Hearing everything repeatedly really helps it stick in the brain, and it’s a great refresher at the beginning of every season. Lel keeps things fresh each year, and everyone switches up their presentations enough that I always learn something from everyone each time, and the participants bring an incredible level of energy, curiosity, and knowledge as well. I always learn from their questions and experiences, too. In addition to learning a lot each year, I also get a lot of fun from SAFE AS, too. It’s so great to hang out with my friends in this environment and see everyone grow and learn, plus we usually get to make a few turns together which is always incredible.

The on-snow part of the day, where you turn knowledge into action, is great practice for everyone. With a quick rundown of using your beacon, shovel, and probe, conversation turns to pro tips for how to stay calm and make haste in a real life situation. While we always hope we won’t have to use our avalanche equipment, rescue skills are perishable and practice is the best way to stay fresh and make a difference when it counts.

Nothing but smiles when you’re practicing avalanche safety in the field with SAFE AS. Photo: Jen Schmidt Photography.

SAFE AS wraps up the day with a debrief, libations, and a next-level raffle. The many sponsors of SAFE AS donate a ton of merchandise for the raffle, including a BCA avalanche airbag, the BC Link radios, skis, snowboards, jackets, food and wine. Everyone leaves with bounty of best-case-scenario prizes, and all raffle ticket proceeds go directly to numerous regional and national Non-Profit Avalanche Organizations.

SAFE AS has raised almost $20,000 for these organizations over the past 4 years for The High Fives Foundation, AIARE (The American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education), NWAC (Northwest Avalanche Center), Sierra Avalanche Center, The Avalanche Project, and the Utah Avalanche Center.

Avalanche transceiver training at SAFE AS clinic. Photo: Jen Schmidt Photography.


This season, SAFE AS is holding courses in Squaw Valley, CA, and Copper Mountain, CO in December 2017. The courses are intermingled with first-hand stories, and the debrief of these personal avalanche experiences becomes an opportunity for avalanche education. This reflection of personal experience gives a valuable scope to the SAFE AS course as an environment where teaching each other takes precedent and sets the tone for taking lessons from your own experiences further down the line.

SAFE AS CLINICS:  One day women’s Intro to Avalanche Safety and FUNdraiser, AND one day co-ed Intro to Avalanche Safety and FUNdraiser, with classroom, on-snow training, and morning yoga.  Anyone ages 14 and older who are interested in starting or refreshing their knowledge of snow and avalanche safety in and out of bounds, and who enjoy a good time for a good cause should attend. Participants are asked to provide their own avalanche beacon, shovel, probe, and backpack.

SAFE AS INSTRUCTORS: Taught by BCA ambassador, Squaw Valley  avalanche forecaster, Alaska heli-ski guide, and AIARE instructor Lel Tone, together with ski and snowboard professionals Michelle Parker, Jackie Paaso, Ingrid Backstrom, Elyse Saugstad, Kimmy Fasani and Robin Van Gyn, and yoga-certified instructor Sherry McConkey. Additionally, professional skier Cody Townsend will be the guest male instructor for our co-ed event at Squaw Valley December 9th, 2017.


Anne Cleary is a writer and free skier with Mad Trees, dedicated to promoting that unique shred buzz culture.  Last season, Anne attended one of the Squaw Valley SAFE AS Clinics.  She shares her experience in this photo gallery below.