Taos Winter Sports Kids participate in a day of avalanche training. Professor Kling is on the lower left.
By BCA Ambassador Josh Kling
Avalanche training can never start too young or early, as was evident with the Taos Winter Sports Kids and the IFSA Jr. Athlete team down at Taos Ski Valley this season. BCA sponsored an avalanche training weekend there this season for local freeride team members, in the wake of the inbounds avalanche that killed two guests. As BCA’s southwestern U.S. guide ambassador, I was nominated to put on the course.
These Taos Winter Sports kids all rip on skis. It was awesome to see the same level of enthusiasm and energy brought to their rescue skills practice. For several hours one day in February 2019 close to 30 Taosonians (is that what they’re called??) gathered near the base area to practice a full array of companion rescue skills. This group brought a solid level of basic knowledge to the table to start.
Many of the athletes wear avalanche transceivers in bounds regularly. Taos has some HUGE terrain. It was awesome to see the majority of moms, dads, and coaches wearing transceivers regardless of where they were skiing. And go figure that the majority of the avalanche beacons were Trackers!
At Taos,there are even a few folks skiing in bounds with BCA Float packs!
Athletes learned the basics, beginning with transceiver wear and care. Even the fanciest beacon in the world won’t work correctly if not taken care of or utilized properly! After wear-and-care, we jumped right into companion rescue drills which included beacon searches, probing, and digging. Lap after lap, the young and eager athletes crushed the companion rescue drills! Getting all these folks together and trying different avalanche beacons was awesome to watch, and an excellent opportunity to compare how some beacons excel over others. The Tracker 2, for example, has an LED display. An LED display tends to work better with polarized lenses versus an LCD display, which can be difficult to see with polarized glasses or goggles. The ease of the Tracker 2‘s pull-tab was also evident. Some of the non-BCA brand beacons were difficult to switch back and forth to search mode when wearing larger mittens or gloves. The real-time display on the T2 was also very evident. Some of the other brand beacons that are supposedly “fancier” struggled when the searcher got moving too quickly (and these kids move FAST!)
Watching skiers, some of whom were less than half the height of a probe, cheer each other on was awesome.
Of course, these are freestyle and big mountain kids. While they patiently waited their turn to perform a rescue, the kids quietly built a massive kicker and practiced their backflips. Of course, what else would we expect them to do?
After three hours of drilling, the students packed up and headed to lunch.
That evening they gathered back up inside the Martini Tree for a full Know Before You Go (KBYG) slideshow presentation. For another 2.5 hours, the Taosonites sat down, enjoyed their favorite beverage of choice, and continued the avalanche learning. It was awesome to draw this program out with numerous questions. At the end of the presentation, the group gathered around brainstorming about next winter. “How can we do this again??” “Can we facilitate a full AIARE Level 1 down here??” “What next steps should I take to further my avalanche education”
Overall this program was a glowing success. I am psyched to head back to Ski Taos next winter for another clinic and to see how far they have progressed in a year!
Josh Kling is an AMGA Certified Alpine and Rock Guide and Assistant Ski Guide AIARE Course Leader based in Durango, Colorado.