written by Conor Foley
We were joined last night at the store by Bruce Moffatt, a local expert on backcountry skiing and a representative of Central Oregon Avalanche Association. Bruce shared with us some of the essential information you should have if you plan to venture into the backcountry this winter. As more and more recreationists are heading into the backcountry when the snow falls the need for training and avalanche awareness has never been greater. For anyone who was not able to make it to last night’s event we have compiled a list of the resources Bruce shared and included them below.
Checking Snow Conditions
Before you leave for your trip it’s important to know what the weather forecast looks like and to be aware of any apparent avalanche danger. There are several sites you should check before every outing to assess the risk for your trip:
This amazing mapping tool will let you zoom in on the exact location for your trip and with the use of the “Slope Angle Shading” layer you can highlight dangerous slopes that have a potential for avalanche activity. You can even print out maps to take that information with you when you are out on your trip.
SNOTEL sites are operated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and gather data on snowpack and other related climate indicators. They can provide an accurate report for snowfall and accumulation for several different key regions in Oregon.
The Northwest Avalanche Center provides up to date forecasts and observations for territory in the Cascades from the Canadian border in the north to Mt. Hood in the south. Forecasts provide the most detailed information for avalanche danger available and are an invaluable resource for backcountry travelers.
This is a one stop shop for all your reporting needs. COAA compiles information from Snotel sites in the Central Oregon Cascades as well as professional observations for the range.
Local Avalanche Courses
If you plan to spend time in avalanche terrain in the backcountry you should invest in an Avalanche education course. There are several organizations offering this service around the state. Courses are typically offered from early winter through late spring and they fill up quickly, so sign up soon!
These courses are offered around the state and have offerings tailored to specific users, e.g. splitboarders, skiers, etc…
There are two introductory avalanche courses offered in January through the community college as well as an advanced option for those who have taken an introductory course within the last five years and would like to proceed to the next level.
One of the coolest courses in our area, Three Sisters Backcountry Access offers hut based courses which include lodging and food at their huts in the Three Sisters Wilderness.
Going on a trip
Like so many of the sports we love to do outdoors, there is no substitute for a great mentor. There are several active groups in our area that send out regular outings during the winter season for snowshoeing, cross country skiing, winter hiking and backcountry skiing. Check out these clubs to learn more:
The Chemeketans post many trips every month for a broad variety of activities. It costs nothing to join a trip for a preview of what the club is like and when you become a member you have access to a large network of local outdoor enthusiasts and their collective knowledge.
If you have a specific interest in cross-country skiing The Oregon Nordic Club is a great place to start. Once the snow starts to accumulate they host weekly outings and they offer an annual ski school in January for anyone seeking more instruction.