Colorado Intro to Backcountry/AT Class - YMCA of the Rockies Snow Mountain Ranch

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Brock Tice, Mar 4, 2019.

  1. Brock Tice

    Brock Tice Getting off the lift Skier

    Jan 4, 2016
    Per my previous thread on getting started with backcountry skiing, I was recommended this course with YMCA of the Rockies. My wife was kind enough to gift me with the class for Christmas and I just completed it yesterday. While the drive to and from was treacherous due to a ton of fresh snow, that made for a great day to ski.

    The instructor, Elliott, is an avid and experienced backcountry skier, who frequents the Berthoud Pass area just down the road. He got us all set up with gear first. The Nordic Center at the YMCA there has a nice complement of current-year Dynafit skis, skins, poles, and boots. They also have beacons, shovels, and probes for training. I used my own boots and poles with the Dynafit skis and skins, but the Dynafit boots were pretty cool in how they flipped in and out of walk mode, loosening/tightening the power strap and upper buckle.

    Then we sat down for the classroom portion, which turned out more like a guided discussion than a lecture. We went through some basic avalanche safety guidelines, most of which I had already learned from the book Snow Sense, but it was good to get his perspective as a guy that solo tours a lot, and get some Real Talk on what matters most to him on a day-to-day basis in the backcountry. He included an explanation of the CAIC area forecast page and some guidelines for watching and interpreting the forecasts. There was also a general discussion of safety principles around trip planning with your party, situational awareness of the terrain and weather conditions, and modifying plans to accommodate everyone in the party and changing conditions.

    We then had a nice boxed lunch that was included with the class fee, it was an impressive amount of food for a box lunch, and tasty enough. There were several vegetarian and non-vegetarian options.

    After lunch we got oriented on how to operate Dynafit tech bindings and skins indoors, as it was cold and snowing outside. Often this is done outside, apparently. We then did a little car caravan to another part of the (masssive, btw) YMCA property, and skinned up a nordic skiing track for a ways, then cut up a hill to a nice flat spot, and transitioned our boots and bindings to downhill mode.

    This young lady in my class was not familiar with skiing powder but you can get a sense for how lovely it was.

    We then broke a new trail with a few switchbacks back up, and skied back down the way we originally came up. Despite some obstacles under the snow, I actually thought it was more fun than the pitch shown in the video. Along the way we got a lot of useful tips on operating touring equipment and touring technique, including management of skins, how to clear snow from skins, the importance of flipping brakes down as soon as you switch out of touring mode, and spotting from the top and bottom of a pitch as group members ski down.

    The training did include basic beacon operation. The instructor had said he was going to toss a beacon in the snow and have us find it, but we didn't have time for that, as the class and instructor were kind of chatty. My one criticism is I would have liked the classroom portion to be a little faster paced, with less chit-chat, so we would have had more time for application and hands-on instruction outdoors.

    While it was a long drive for me, and it may or may not be worth a lot of travel for a one-day class, I still thought it was worth the 6-8 hours of driving each way for me. If you lived closer it would be a no-brainer, IMO, if you were thinking about getting into backcountry skiing and AT.
    karlo, Mike King and Slim like this.
  2. Slim

    Slim Getting off the lift Skier

    Oct 2, 2017
    Duluth, MN
    Fun to read! Sounds like you had a great day out i the mountains.

    As a note on the remark about about the “chatty group and guide”. For not much more money, you can hire a guide privately with a friend or two.
    This means you control the pace of discussion, you (normally) get a longer day, and you can pick your own dates.

    My wife and I did that in order to get avalanche training in a time that worked with our schedule.
    The guide we skied with charges $600 for 3 people, so at $200/person that’s not that much more than the group course (although you don’t get food or gear.) Most other guiding companies have similar rates.
    Brock Tice likes this.
  3. Thread Starter
    Brock Tice

    Brock Tice Getting off the lift Skier

    Jan 4, 2016
    This was mentioned as one possible method for measuring slope angle, though not specifically recommended. I tried this method eyeballing without the sticker and got within 1 degree of the instructor's inclinometer. I think I will order one to try, the downslope measurement in particular seems pretty neat.

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