Early Season Rituals by Sarah Carpenter


It’s November, and it’s a snowy one in many parts of the country.  That means that people are getting after it in the snow-covered mountains. Early season is when our skills are rusty, so here are a few tips for getting rid of the cobwebs. 

1. Check Your Gear: 

After being stored for the summer, take the time to make sure everything is in working order. Before you travel in the backcountry, check your gear’s function and range. 

Check Your Shovel & Probe For Cracks And Dings: Check that the welds are in good shape.  If you find any problems, replace the gear.  Rescue gear is essential and it has to be in good shape. Don’t mess around with this.

Check Your Transceiver: Make sure the battery area is not corroded.  If the terminals are corroded (covered with white ‘fur’) then clean them with a toothbrush with a solution of baking soda and water. Make sure the springs are in place and not cracked and that batteries sit well in the case.  Install new batteries and let your beacon run through a self-check.  And as for those batteries – unless your transceiver indicates that you can use lithium batteries, use alkaline batteries.

2. Organize Your Pack 

While improvisation is essential, some things are impossible to MacGyver.

Create a First Aid And Repair Kit:  Prepare for the worst-case scenario – think about what you can and cannot improvise and build your “kit” from there. I include a fire starter and a way to melt snow into water.

Pack Extra: Pack extra layers, gloves, and a space blanket. Again, think about that worst-case scenario and make sure you are prepared in case you end up spending the night in the backcountry. 

3. Practice With Your Gear

Practice, practice, practice.

Practice Search and Rescue: Get outside and practice transceiver search and rescue drills.  These skills are perishable and need to be practiced each season.  Take the time to do this with your regular partners before you start venturing out into committing terrain.

Review Your Surroundings: Study maps and guidebooks to re-familiarize yourself with your backcountry terrain. Recognizing avalanche terrain is an essential skill, and one that develops over your time in the field. 

4. Start Tracking Weather

Weather is the architect of avalanches.

Watch The Weather: Know where to find the current weather forecast and a report of the past 24-48 hours, because the more informed you are, the better terrain decisions you can make. Educate yourself to stay up-to-date on how much snow has fallen, how hard the wind blew, and which direction it came in from. 

Unsure where to find information online? Visit www.avalanche.org and find your local avalanche forecast center.  

5. Develop Your System

Backcountry travel is an involved activity; there’s a lot of information to gather, sort and prioritize. Manage your armful of information by developing a system.  

Use a Check List: The more systematic approach you can take to the backcountry, the more set up for success you are.

6. Sign Up For An Avalanche Course

If you took a course recently, sign up for a refresher or the next level of training.  If it’s been years since you took a course, take another course.  The tools, information, and presentation styles have changed in the last few years.  Check it out!