BCA and IFSA Launch 2016 Freeskiing Comp Avy Education Program

For Team Summit, it wasn’t all Powerpoint and snow pits. The team spent lots of time on snow choosing and riding terrain appropriate for the current avalanche conditions

by Travis Poulan

For our second year running, Backcountry Access is the official “education sponsor” of the International Freeskiers and Snowboarders Association (IFSA). This year, we’ve launched a big effort to get freeride competitors into avalanche courses. This December we helped organize IFSA Avalanche Awareness Month, with over 100 athletes taking level 1 and avalanche awareness courses in the US and Canada. including British Columbia, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, Lake Tahoe, Maine, and New Hampshire.

Education has always been a huge part of our program at BCA,” says BCA VP Bruce Edgerly. “But recently we’ve put more of our resources into youth education, especially the young freeride crowd. Experimentation is a big part of their lives at this age—including skiing out of bounds. We want to get to them early, before they start crossing those boundaries.”


Sugar Bowl Academy hits the debris field with their beacons

Trevor Tanhoff, head coach of Sugar Bowl Academy in Tahoe, and Ryan Van Nuys, head coach of Arapahoe Basin’s Team Summit, both held level 1 avalanche courses for their athletes during IFSA Avy Awareness Month. “With the level 1 class, the participants got a great introduction to staying safe while moving around the mountains,” Van Nuys said, “with an eye on real world situations the athletes may encounter.” Easy access to avalanche education is huge for the IFSA, he said, because teams can be educated together. “It’s great to see these young athletes learning about the dangers of the backcountry so early in their skiing careers.”


Team Summit takes a break from shovel work for some pit talk from instructor David Dellamora of Rocky Mountain Guides.

The Winter Park big mountain team, coached by Cliff Bennett, hosted a Know Before You Go (KBYG) class for 52 athletes, and even some parents, at Winter Park Resort. Jamie Wolter, a KBYG instructor, delivered this innovative new avalanche avoidance program which explains how an athlete should:

  1. Get the Gear
  2. Get the Training
  3. Get the Forecast
  4. Get the Picture, and
  5. Get Out of Harm’s Way

…to ensure the safest possible skiing/snowboarding experience when in uncontrolled areas.


Team Winter Park learns the five steps of preparation

Ski and Snowboard Club Vail headed down to Silverton for winter camp, but took a breather from the slopes for a KBYG clinic taught by Silverton honcho (and former K2 CEO) Tim Petrick and avalanche forecaster Scott Toepfer from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

The Avalanche Awareness Beyond the Boundaries (AABBS) program out of Whitewater Ski Resort now has its own avalanche education dedicated classroom-yurt where they offer public and private courses to young athletes. Brent Malysh, Big Mountain Program Director and a member of the AABBS Board of Directors, says by the end of the season they will have taught more than 300 kids about “making smart decisions and staying safe outside of the ski areas.”


Team Summit athletes Cam Dudiak, Grif Moller, Ryan Nisbet, Stu Edgerly, Pierce and Trent McCrerey practice strategic shoveling

Classes of varying levels will continue to be offered throughout the season. With help from BCA staff and ambassadors, the IFSA will be delivering the Know Before You Go program (#KBYG) at the five National Series events, including Crested Butte, Snowbird, Whistler, Crystal Mountain, and Alpine Meadows. At the recent Snowbird national event, BCA ambassador and former Teton Gravity Research lead guide Jim Conway gave a fascinating look “behind the scenes at TGR,” with details on how TGR athletes and guides prepare to safely ride big lines in Alaska.

IFSA is only one of BCA’s youth education initiatives in 2016. Backcountry Access is a major sponsor of the Know Before You Go program in Colorado and Utah and a founding sponsor of The Avalanche Project, a North American industrywide effort to reduce preventable avalanche fatalities through consistent public safety messaging.

As part of this youth initiative, BCA is also now requiring all of its athletes to have minimum level 1 avalanche training. “We want all of our staff, athletes, and ambassadors to set an example for their peers,” Edgerly said. “And we value our people, so we want them making good decisions in the field—and staying out of harm’s way.”