Raffles, Beer and Knowledge: A Snow and Avalanche Workshop Built for the East

The Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop brought speakers from across the U.S., a testament to the growing need for avy education in the east. [Photo] Courtesy Russell Toris

The 7th annual Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop, held in Fryeburg, Maine on Nov. 11, is an event that’s grown from being held in a small room of metal folding chairs to one that fills out the elegant, 375-capacity Leura Hill Eastman Performing Arts Center. The director of the Mt. Washington Avalanche Center, Frank Carus, facilitated the event while outdoor educators, guides and weathermen from across the nation translated the importance of this East Coast-based workshop to the approximately 325 people in attendance.

”I was really impressed by this year’s ESAW,” said Sarah Carpenter, AMGA guide and co-owner of the American Avalanche Institute who traveled from Jackson Hole, Wyo. to participate in the event. “The audience was one of the most engaged audiences I have seen at a SAW [Snow Avalanche Workshop], asking great questions and offering input on a variety of topics.” Carpenter is at the nation’s forefront for avalanche awareness and snow safety, and her appearance at this year’s workshop is a testament to the growing need for avalanche awareness among skiers, riders and climbers in the east.

Also on the speaking agenda was Chair of Expeditionary Studies at SUNY Plattsburgh, Jerry Isaaks, who discussed his Seven Steps to Maximizing the Fun Factor.

“Slippers and coffee,” is Isaaks’s take on pre-trip planning. In his Seven Steps, Isaaks defines his goals and objectives for an outing while he sits in slippers and sips on his preferred dark roast coffee. “Decisions should be made while one is warm, comfortable and thinking clearly,” Isaak notes. “Not on the corniced lip of a wind-loaded backbowl.” This lesson prefaced a host of easily applicable suggestions to avoiding backcountry dangers.

Other noteworthy speakers included Eric Knoff from the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center and Ryan Matz of the Mount Washington Avalanche Center. Both broke down and discussed relevant case studies of well-seasoned guides and athletes making simple mistakes in the backcountry that led to disastrous consequences. They left audiences with a stirring message of how vigilant awareness and thorough communication can be combined for a safer tour in the backcountry.

The event drew people a wide variety of participants, from certified guides to the East Coast shredders looking to expand their knowledge bases. “I attended the conference, because it is an affordable professional development opportunity,” says Ashley Wood, a 23-year-old Outdoor Education student at Vermont’s Johnson State College. “This workshop introduced me to the giant topics that are avalanches and risk management and opened my eyes to how much more there is to learn. I am looking forward to next year’s workshop.”

For an affordable admission price of $50 ($25 for students), the Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop delivers, but is just the beginning of a season of eastern avalanche education. As December rolls around, the Mount Washington Avalanche Center, and other AIARE course providers offer ways to expand avy safety knowledge for the season to come.

East Coast Avy Resource:

Acadia Mountain Guides (888) 232-9559

Alpine  Logic (207) 949-1736

Appalachian Mountain Club and National Ski Patrol (603) 466-2727

Chauvin Guides International (603) 356-8919

Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School (603) 356-5433

International Mountain Climbing School (603) 356-7064

Karavaniers (514) 281-0799 (Canada)

Mooney Mountain Guides (603) 744-5853

Northeast Mountaineering (978) 413-4391

Synott Mountain Guides (603) 986-9607

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