Avalanche safety training: do you really need it? Part 2

For Day 2 of our AST Level 1 course, we went into the classroom with Lori Zacaruk

by Kirsten Armleder

A group of people putting their hands up.
Lori Zacaruk has a unique way of teaching that really helps students understand snow behaviour and avalanche terrain. Kathy Burke photo

(Continued from Avalanche Safety Training: Do You Really Need It? Part 1)

The classroom session that my husband, Monte, and I attended on January 12, 2013, for the Avalanche Skills Training (AST) Level 1 course with Zac’s Tracs was just as good as the field session held the day before. It was focused more on avalanche awareness and how to make safe terrain choices than dealing with the event of an avalanche, which had been covered on Day 1.

The classroom session was held at the Best Western Fernie Mountain Lodge in Fernie, B.C., from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Twenty-seven sledders were in attendance and I have to commend each and every one of them. For us, spending a day indoors on a beautiful bluebird day when we knew there was fresh snow in the mountains wasn’t easy, but I’m sure glad we did.

Lori Zacaruk of Zac's Tracs introduced herself to the class and gave us some background on herself and her husband, Randy, co-owner of Zac's Tracs and an instructor as well.

The couple are backcountry snowmobilers, just like us. Lori comes from a farming and rodeo background and she and Randy have competed in four-by-four races as well as snocross and motocross. They have also been involved in the film industry for several years, and they've worked on movies like RV, Inception, Passchendaele and the hit TV series Heartland

The couple started Zac’s Tracs 12 years ago, and since then, nearly 9,000 snowmobilers have taken either a classroom session or a field training session with them. Lori said there are many sledders who repeat her course every year; those who do get a discount.

The reality of it all

After the introduction, Lori played a video that was taken from the helmet camera of a skier getting caught in an avalanche. While we watched it, Lori asked the class to do jumping jacks. When we stopped, we had to press a hand to our chest or stomach, plug our nose and breathe through a straw. This simple exercise revealed what it would be like to be buried in an avalanche—that is a place I never ever want to be.

Using slide shows, diagrams and hands-on materials, Lori helped us to understand how snowflakes bond and form layers in the snow, and she explained how weather, wind and slope can make snowpack unstable, turning the thing we snowmobilers love into a death trap.

During lunch, which was supplied by the lodge, we watched a heart-wrenching film of a group of backcountry skiers who had triggered an avalanche that ended up taking the life of a young man in their group. Hearing the story told by one of the survivors and seeing how one wrong move can take the life of a friend, son, husband and father-to-be still brings a tear to my eye.

It’s all about the knowing

So much information was packed into an 8½-hour session that I can see why some decide to take it again the next season—that, and the fact that new information on avalanche behaviour becomes available all the time should motivate anyone who hasn’t taken a course in a few years to update their training.

Is avalanche safety training worth it? Absolutely! Taking the AST Level 1 with Zac’s Tracs gave me a new understanding of the mountains I play in. Now when I’m out there, rippin’ it up and having fun, I am more aware of the conditions around me and better prepared to make safe terrain choices. Knowing that the person I’m with has the same level of training that I have gives me confidence as well.

Think of it as cheap life insurance. Instead of forking out money for that new wrap or other aftermarket bling for your sled, invest in avalanche training. It can save your life and the lives of those around you.

For more information, contact Zac’s Tracs Avalanche Skills Training or Trigger Point Snow Services, or visit the Canadian Avalanche Centre website for a list of avalanche skills training providers in your area. 

Win a free AST Level 1 Class and Field session (a $350 value) from Zac's Tracs for yourself, a friend or a family member. This offer is exclusive to SnoRiders readers and it applies to upcoming classes that are taking place in Valemount and Fernie, B.C., during the 2013 sledding season.

To qualify, simply register for either of these classes on the Zac's Tracs website and quote SR350 when prompted for a Special Code. One winner will be drawn at each of these classes. The odds of winning are high! Only those students who have registered with the SnoRiders code, however, will be entered into this draw. The life they save may be yours!

Win a free AST Level 1 Class and Field session (a $350 value) from Zac's Tracs for yourself, a friend or a family member. This offer is exclusive to SnoRiders readers and it applies to upcoming classes that are taking place in Valemount and Fernie, B.C., during the 2013 sledding season.

To qualify, simply register for either of these classes on the Zac's Tracs website and quote SR350 when prompted for a Special Code. One winner will be drawn at each of these classes. The odds of winning are high! Only those students who have registered with the SnoRiders code, however, will be entered into this draw. The life they save may be yours!

Related Articles

Snowmobiling safety When avalanche education is not enough

Digging into the human factor, the author investigates why we are losing so many who have the education, the gear and the experience.

by Trish Drinkle
Two people doing an avalanche search.
Snowmobiling safety, Fernie, BC Levelling up with a Companion Rescue Skills Course

As technology, techniques and our level of riding experience change, it’s important to keep our avalanche safety training up to date.

by Kirsten Armleder
Jennifer Coulter and Pika, her Belgian Malinois
Snowmobiling safety, Fernie, BC Avalanches, a field technician and a dog named Pika

Jennifer Coulter, Avalanche Canada’s lead field technician, offers up a myriad of ways to stay alive while backcountry sledding

by Kyle Born
>
View all Snowmobiling safety articles