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Learn Backcountry Basics At Alpental, WA For Free

If you are an avid backcountry traveller, you know that you must have "the standard " avalanche gear: beacon, probe and a shovel. But unfortunately, there are lots of people who think that having the right gear is all they need to venture beyond ski area boundaries. But just like the great American writer Mark Twain once said, "Knowledge without experience is just information".

The David Pettigrew Memorial Foundation has been promoting awareness, safety and education for participants in outdoor recreation and sporting activities, especially in the mountains and wilderness areas of the Pacific Northwest since 2009.

The Foundation in conjunction with the APP ( the Association of Professional Patrollers ) offer 3 different levels of mountain safety courses :

1 - an introductory class on basic mountain safety
2 - an intermediate mountain safety course on avalanche awareness
3 - proper beacon, probe and shovel usage
Before, I attended one of REI's 1.5 hr free " Avalanche Awareness Clinics ". Needless to say, it was a waste of time. No harm in attending, but you will not learn much. It will do exactly what the description says, introduce concepts. Basically, they are trying to sell the next course to you ( Avalanche Level 1 cert ), which is not a bad thing if you are serious about traveling into the winter backcountry ( and don't mind to part with $ 205 ).

But last Saturday, I had a chance to participate in a FREE " Proper Beacon, Probe and Shovel Usage " class, generously offered by The David Pettigrew Memorial Foundation at Alpental. Not only was it free, but it was also completely hands on experience ( minimum talking, max practical knowledge).

The class took place in the "lab " - Transceiver Training Park at Alpental, a transceiver training park designed for sidecountry/backcountry enthusiasts to practice simulated avalanche searches using their own beacon/transceiver and probe.

Beacon Basin ( another name for the park ) features an EZ Searcher System which is fully automated and will facilitate simulated searches for up to four buried ‘victims’.

All participants were provided with with free use of all the necessary gear ( if you don't have your own) purchased by the David Pettigrew Memorial Foundation.

The instructors John Stimberis, ( a long time professional ski patroller and supervisor for avalanche forecasting for WSDOT ) and Rob Gibson, (Alpental patrol director and risk manager ) started the class with some basic information about types of beacons ( digital vs analog ) and visual demonstration, followed by the practical drills - use of a probe and searches for "buried victims" ( the practice targets/strike pads ).

Next, John explained and demonstrated the key avalanche rescue technique of 'Strategic Shoveling" ( the hardest and most time consuming phase in a rescue ).

The big finale was "the real search and rescue " of a "real person " ( a buried manikin ).

Despite the relatively large group ( about 10 people ), everybody had a chance to practice their rescue techniques.

For more information on classes, please visit The David Pettigrew Memorial Foundation.

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