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How to be avalanche aware

If your kids are heading into the backcountry, they need to understand the danger posed by avalanches. Helen Hayes shares some tips on what to learn and where to learn it.

M y children are now old enough to venture overseas and are talking about how they are going to explore the backcountry with their mates in Japan, the USA or Canada and, even though they are experienced, this has me stressing out. In the USA, organisations such as the North West Avalanche Centre ( offer education programmes to kids from age 12.

Fortunately, Australian ski resorts are not at the same level of risk of avalanches as many overseas resorts, with the early morning ‘booms’ that signify avalanche bombing never heard on our shores. However, avalanches can, and do, occur in the Australian backcountry, and booking your son, daughter or family into one of these courses might just save a life.

Mountain Safe at Mt Buller

The Mountain Safe course at Mt Buller is a new five-hour programme developed for children and adults alike and will be offered for the first time this 2016 winter season. Taught in small groups, the programme will focus on terrain awareness; introduction to safety equipment including transceivers, shovels and probes and how to use them; strategic shovelling; decision-making protocols; and patient stabilisation. You will learn how to identify terrain hazards, the potential of avalanche slide paths and what to do if an avalanche happens. You will also learn about the dangers of tree wells. The programme, focusing on basic skills, has been developed by elite-level mountain guides in North America, New Zealand and Australia. The course will run at Mt Buller this season.

Snow Safety at Mount Hotham

Mount Hotham Ski Patrol runs Backcountry Snow Safety Skills courses that provide an introduction to the necessary skills and knowledge required for a safe and enjoyable backcountry excursion here and overseas. The courses are coordinated and run by professional Ski Patrollers with over 25 years’ experience, with participants spending an evening out in the elements. The course includes lectures and on-snow workshops. Hotham has produced an excellent brochure on everything related to safety in the snow which is available on its website.

On patrol at Thredbo and Falls Creek
Thredbo and Falls Creek also offer some courses conducted by Ski Patrol. Thredbo has two courses: an Avalanche Awareness Course and an overnight option. At Falls, Ski Patrol runs educational and practical sessions for backcountry skiers, boarders and trekkers. The four-hour practical Awareness Sessions cover the basics.

Main Range Backcountry
For serious backcountry adventurers, Main Range Backcountry conducts the Avalanche Skills Training (AST) Level 1 and 2 Courses, developed by the Canadian Avalanche Association most weekends in July, August and September in NSW and Victoria, and also in Queenstown, New Zealand. AST Level 1 gives an entry-level decision-making framework with a minimum of seven hours’ theory in the classroom and one day in the field required. Participants will also learn how to use the Avaluator™.

Evergreen Outdoor Center
For heavy-duty avalanche training in Japan, sign up for the Evergreen Avalanche Skills Training (AST) courses. The Level 1 course runs for two days and includes seven hours in the classroom and one full day in the snow. The one-day Companion Rescue Skills course is a must as it teaches life-saving search and rescue techniques – skills that will stay with your forever.

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