TETON PASS — A new class is underway at Teton Pass Ski Area to teach people about avalanches and the dangers they pose.
There have been at least 16 deaths across the nation in February due to avalanches - the deadliest period in decades.
On Thursday morning, skiers set off from the lodge at Teton Pass for a full day up on the slopes studying the snow to better understand avalanches.
"I'm learning a ton,” said class participant Laura Williamson. "My husband and I and my friends, we want to get out into the backcountry and find another way to recreate in the winter and frankly avalanches terrify me. So I wanted to learn how to travel in the backcountry safely."
"I've definitely learned some fun, sciencey stuff about the snowpack and the composition of it,” class participant Shelly Milburn said. "Also, I guess I can articulate now, or understand, why the places that make me nervous make me nervous and then I can transfer that to places I haven't been before and say, 'Okay, is this even a smart place to be?'"
The skiers were part of a three-day beginner class. Teton Pass has brought instructors in to teach the class in the past, but this year owner Charles Hlavac decided to start teaching it himself.
"The class encompasses everything from basic companion rescue that everyone should be familiar with if they're going to venture out into avalanche terrain, as well as starting the conversation to identify avalanche terrain,” Hlavac explained. "Route finding skills, hazard assessment, interpreting a forecast from a forecast center, and just, in general, being a good backcountry partner to somebody that you might be going out with."
The ski area also has an ongoing avalanche mitigation program, making it a prime location for classes.
Hlavac said the first class filled up very quickly and there was already a waiting list for the next one. "We're going to keep doing it going forward as well as trying to teach more advanced courses,” said Hlavac.
If you’re interested in signing up for a class, contact the ski area at 406-466-2209, or click here to visit the website.