February 9, 2010

Avy Education: Motivation

Following up on my post about my reluctance to take an avalanche course, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about what finally motivated me to bite the bullet and go take one. For starters, the opportunity presented itself. I had the money saved up, and I had some free time which coincided with dates that SMG was offering a Level I class. Also important given the past few winters, there was 'interesting' snow in the Sierra, with a big storm on the way. Conditions were good—who wants to take an avalanche class when the mountains are bare or boring?

Curiosity was also part of my motivation. I like to learn about new things, especially things I'm already interested in, and snow science certainly qualifies. I had a vague sense that there was a lot I didn't know, and that taking a class would be at least a start toward filling some of the many gaps in my knowledge. In that sense I wasn't disappointed. You could say I learned more about the depth of my ignorance than about avalanches themselves. That may not be the best sales pitch for the Level I curriculum, but it does provide a strong motivation to keep learning.

On the subject of knowledge, I should say that my website provided a key bit of motivation as well. One of the things I'm uncomfortable with as a blogger is the inevitability of spouting nonsense. I try not to do it wherever I can, of course, but the format (fast, daily, unedited writing) practically guarantees that some percentage of what I write will, in fact, turn out to be nonsense. I've deliberately avoided writing in detail about my snow assessment in the backcountry for this very reason. Taking an avalanche class, I reasoned, would be likely to reduce the chances of me saying something ridiculous or reckless about snowpack. The success of this, I suppose, remains to be seen.

I also took my class because I wanted to be a better partner. When we travel together in the backcountry, the hope is that we're safer together than solo. By beginning a more formal avalanche education, I do think I bring more to the table as a partner. I'm more likely to make a positive contribution to discussions about snowpack stability now, for example. I know more about safe travel techniques. And, my rescue skills are certainly improved in the event that someone else ever depends on them.

Last and by no means least, I really, really, really don't want to get caught in an avalanche. I worry about this regularly, so much so that I question my involvement in this sport despite how much I love it. When I go out into the backcountry, I want every possible advantage.

As I was skiing this past weekend, and my partner was digging a snow pit, and running some tests, and we were talking about the results, I found myself thinking that I still didn't know nearly enough. Given the uncertainties snow presents us with, it's not possible to ever know exactly what's going to happen. But that's no reason to hide behind ignorance. So I'm going to keep learning every chance I get. And, when possible, I'm going to share as much about what I learn as I can. Because if I'm in the dark about this stuff, so are a lot of you. And we're all in this together, I think. That's my motivation.


Andy Lewicky

ANDY LEWICKY is a Los Angeles-based writer and photographer who enjoys good books, jasmine tea, long walks in the rain, and climbing and skiing the big peaks of the California Sierra. email | follow

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