White Mountain Avalanche Education Foundation

The growth and popularity of winter recreation has increased with each season across the avalanche terrain of the White Mountains and especially in the high peaks of the Presidentials. This is particularly true during the periods of highest snow instability, December through March. Avalanche accidents and close calls over the past decade have shown we can do more to educate visitors before they arrive in the mountains. The White Mountain Avalanche Education Foundation is used as a mechanism to reach this goal through avalanche awareness and education of the youth and wilderness rescuers of the White Mountain region and those visiting this unique landscape.

2018 Youth Course

Over time every community, and corresponding culture, goes through paradigm shifts. Sometimes these alterations are glacially slow (note: by pre-anthropogenic climate change rates) and sometimes they happen with the expediency of a firecracker. Over the past five years, as skiers trade in lift tickets for tech bindings, the skiing community has experienced a profound refocusing of energy more akin the aforementioned explosive.

Consciously addressing the rate of change is important because we need to ask whether or not the skills required to ski in avalanche terrain can be acquired at the same rapid pace that our collective desire to ski steep, powder filled, backcountry lines deepens. Board members of the White Mountain Avalanche Education Foundation (WMAEF) feel that the skills and techniques needed for safe travel take years to acquire and therefore aren’t well matched for the ever growing culture of instant gratification. While the desire to explore out of bounds and un-patrolled areas is becoming ever present, the ability to do so safely only comes from years of training and experience.

Youth avalanche awareness class at Hermit lake. Photo: Joe Klementovich

USFS snow ranger coming out to meet WMAEF youth avalanche awareness class in full conditions. Photo: Joe Klementovich

Fortunately the backcountry skiing industry has seen a noticeable uptick in participation in recreational avalanche education courses. While the old model was to have a “close call” then go learn (praxis then theory), the new model is almost the inverse, learn and then go experience (theory then praxis). However, the people attending avalanche education courses often aren’t an accurate representation of increasingly diverse user groups. One population that is noticeably under served are skiers under the age of 18. The reasons for this are multifactorial, however, the one variable we at WMAEF want to address is the financial barrier created by the typical high cost (especially if you are a teenager) of formal avalanche education classes.

As board members we feel a deep responsibility to do our part to increase access to basic backcountry skiing and avalanche safety skills. Thus, this year, with the help of Synnott Mountain Guides and Acadia Mountain Guides, we hosted two backcountry youth avalanche awareness courses. Both classes were very well attended, with some students travelling around the northeast.

Each course began with a one hour presentation of basic backcountry information; for example how to collect snowpack data, how to put a trip plan together, and how to recognize avalanche terrain (amongst numerous other topics). After the presentation both groups skinned to the Hermit Lake shelters where we were greeted by USFS Snow Rangers with warm drinks and a place to get out of the wind for a few minutes. The Snow Rangers were gracious enough to take time out of their busy schedules to provide first hand experiences on what it is like to gather information in a harsh winter environment and then produce a usable avalanche forecast. After our fingers and toes were warmed, and calories consumed, we went back into the field to demonstrate basic snowpack analysis tests, and how to perform a companion rescue. While this is a lot of information to digest in a single outing, both groups did a phenomenal job of paying attention, asking good questions, and fully engaging in each field component. At three o’clock we all pointed skis downhill and both classes were treated to ideal conditions on the John Sherburne Ski Trail.

Over the past few years the topic of “mentorship” has received a lot of attention within the avalanche industry. As professionals we have asked in earnest how we can do a better job of fostering the relationships necessary for long-term learning in what are inherently complex and dynamic alpine systems. At WMAEF we are proud of our efforts to address this issue by creating opportunities for us to share our collective knowledge with the next generation of backcountry riders. Our hope is that our youth courses facilitate strong peer-to-peer partnerships as well as mentoring opportunities for kids who are just entering the sport. As we mentioned during our course debriefs, we are always here as a resource and we look forward to continuing to help kids safely recreate in the mountains for many years to come.  

Thanks again to all those who participated and helped make the courses possible. Please join us at The Eastern Snow and Avalanche Workshop next year for a full multimedia recap made possible by Cait Bourgault and board member, Joe Klementovich. Ski safe!  

Words by: Blake Keogh (WMAEF Board of Director and Youth Avalanche Awareness Instructor)

Grants available

The grant process and information on what we expect from a grant request is now live. Check the main menu above to get to the full page.

Grants

Grants from the WMAEF help defray expenses for education, educational supplies & equipment, and training. Our ideal request is from an organization that is providing educational opportunities to high school and university aged groups. We will entertain requests from individuals but the justification must be inline with our mission goals to support education and awareness programs, snow science curriculum and research, not individual certifications. Our goal is to provide support and funding to the Northeast.

Hey we are on Instagram

We’ll keep posting photos of our progress over on Instagram @avalanchefoundation so head over a follow along and see a little of what’s going on behind the scenes, at meetings and out in the mountains!

Thanks,

Joe. Beth, Frank, Blake and Chris

Board of Directors

Frank Carus - USFS Director of Mount Washington Avalanche Center

Frank came to the avalanche center after an adventurous and diverse early career supporting his climbing and skiing obsessions by guiding, building things and picking up whatever job would fund another mission (or feed his two kids!)

Frank put his degree in Geography to use guiding climbs and ski mountaineering trips, or taking personal trips to the Alps, Andes, Patagonia and the western States and has worked for most every guide service in the Mount Washington Valley in the process. A summer in the Tetons guiding for Exum Guides broke up the monotony. He has an obvious passion for learning and has taken the AMGA Alpine, Ski and Ski Mountaineering guide courses in addition to being a certified Rock Instructor since 1996. Working vacations take him west to teach technical rope rescue to US Marine climbing instructors through Peak Rescue Institute. Frank is an Advanced EMT and has had AIARE and AAI Avalanche course 1, 2 and 3 training. He also enjoys Striped bass fishing from paddleboards, watching the Patriots dominate the NFL, and taking his avalanche dog, Lily, on long mountain patrols.

Beth Swartz - Local Educator & Skier

Beth Swartz is a local educator and snow enthusiast.  She is currently a Spanish teacher at Kennett Middle School in Conway, where she also coaches field hockey.  She previously taught in Massachusetts before coming to her senses and moving north.  Her education background includes a BA from Colby College, MAT from Simmons College and MSEd from the University of New England.  Beth also runs the ski and snowboard club at KMS in an effort to get kids outside and on the snow.

In the time between her teaching stints, Beth served as an Appalachian Mountain Club Hermit Lake Caretaker. She spent most of 2013- early 2015 calling Hermit Lake and Tuckerman Ravine her home and shredding nearly every ski line in the eastern ravines of Mt. Washington.  When she wasn’t out skiing, she could often be found getting field time with the snow rangers as they made observations and performed stability tests. In addition to her vast knowledge of the backcountry of the White Mountains, her backcountry education and resume includes AIARE Level 2 Certification, EMT, Wilderness First Responder, and Leave No Trace Master Educator. While she no longer lives on Mt. Washington, she is still a resident of the Mt. Washington Valley and continues to ski every chance she gets, which includes skinning up something most days after school in the winter.  Beth is really looking forward to combining her passions for education and snow science through developing curriculum with the WMAEF for local schools to use.

Blake Keogh - Outdoor Experience Coordinator

Blake Keogh is the Outdoor Experience Coordinator and a psychology teacher at the Waynflete School in Portland, ME. Additionally, he is an AIARE instructor and ski guide during the winter months.Blake is also one of the newest MWAEF board members. Over the past two years Blake finished his AIARE Level 2 and 3 courses, as well as ITC1 training. During that time, Blake also earned his MA from Prescott College after successfully completing a graduate thesis that examined preemptive decision-making among backcountry skiers. In his free time Blake continues to pursue his own ski mountaineering goals in New England and throughout the West, with a particular fondness for the PNW.”

Joe Klementovich - Photographer

Chris Joosen - USFS Safety Officer