Backcountry and Back Bowls Safety
Our Back Bowls terrain is rugged. This area is not controlled and managed to the same extent as in-bounds terrain and includes more hazards and increased risk. This risk, along with the other hazards – large cliffs, obstacles, changing snow conditions, sink-holes, etc. – requires respect, knowledge and preparation.
Click here to view the Alpental Back Bowls Policies and Release of Liability.
For information on Beacon Basin – Transceiver Training Park at Alpental, click here. The EZ Searcher system used in Beacon Basin was generously purchased by, and is managed by the Alpental B.A.R.K., a local non-profit dedicated to the support and training of Avalanche Dogs used in avalanche search and rescue, as well as generally supporting avalanche education.
The Summit would like to express its gratitude for the generous donation of 20 avalanche beacons, backpacks and other backcountry safety equipment by the David Pettigrew Memorial Foundation.
Avalanche Safety Classes
A few local organizations offer Avalanche Safety Classes/Workshops throughout the winter. Head to the David Pettigrew Memorial Foundation for more information.
Know what the current avalanche conditions are? Know what the latest weather forecast says? The Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center is a great resource!
Basic Backcountry Pack
Photo contents: 1. Backcountry shovel, 2. Avalanche probe (extended), 3. Backpack, 4. Avalanche probe (folded), 5. Extra dry gloves and a flashlight, 6. Water, 7. First aid kit, 8. Avalanche transceiver, 9. Extra dry hat, 10. Food that is high in energy
Respect in the Back Bowls and backcountry is needed to prevent unnecessary accidents
You should realize that your actions affect not just yourself, but also every other member of your party and potentially any other winter enthusiasts who may be required to help in the case of an accident. If you feel something is above your ability level, it is your responsibility to make the wise judgment and inform your group.
Knowledge is your best safety tool
Knowledge is the key to safer Back Bowls and backcountry excursions. Knowledge of your planned ascent and descent routes, knowledge of the general area you plan on exploring, knowledge of your equipment and how it functions, knowledge of recent weather patterns and future weather forecasts, and knowledge of snow science/snow safety. All of these pieces play an integral role in your safe return from your journey into the Back Bowls or far backcountry. With the proper knowledge, you can make the proper judgment.
This is an avalanche transceiver. Like a seatbelt, an avalanche transceiver only works when you wear it and know how to use it!
Which brings us to preparation…
You can purchase all the fancy gear, be the best skier or rider in the world, but if you don’t know how to use avalanche safety tools prior to being thrust into an avalanche situation, none of it matters. Take an avalanche safety course so you can learn when an avalanche may occur. Practice switching your avalanche transceiver to receive the signal from another transceiver. See if you can locate a friend’s hidden transceiver in their room or in your yard.
Know how to use your transceiver before you go into the Back Bowls or backcountry. Every second counts when you are searching. This is not the time to refer to the transceiver owner’s manual for clarification. Practice extending and using your avalanche probe so you know the difference between striking a rock and striking a tree. For more information on where to practice, click here.
Additional Information / Education Courses
- Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center – current avalanche conditions and the latest weather forecasts
- AIARE Avalanche Course Level 1 – offered by Pro Guiding Service in North Bend, WA
- American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education – in-depth information including the latest in avalanche research and a directory of educational courses near you
- American Avalanche Association – in-depth information on avalanche behavior and safety
Between 55 and 65 percent of victims buried in the open are killed, and only 80 percent of the victims remaining on the surface survive. (McClung, p.177).
Research carried out in Italy (Nature vol 368 p21) based on 422 buried skiers indicates how the chances of survival drop:
- very rapidly from 92 percent within 15 minutes to only 30 percent after 35 minutes (victims die of suffocation)
- near zero after two hours (victims die of injuries or hypothermia)
This is Porter, one of our Backcountry Avalanche Rescue K-9s. Although he is man’s best friend, you don’t want to have to meet him while he’s working.
Want to know more about Alpental’s Back Bowls and backcountry Policy?
McClung, David and Shaerer, Peter: The Avalanche Handbook, The Mountaineers: 1993. ISBN 0-89886-364-3