Temperatures are down, the wind chill is up, and snow is on the ground. But that’s not going to stop you from getting outside. Ice climbing and winter mountaineering are exciting alternatives to traditional hiking, bouldering, and rock climbing but come with an additional set of perils- namely, slippery terrain, exposure, and avalanches. For outdoor enthusiasts looking to turn their Spring/Summer/Fall hobby into a year-round endeavor, avalanche and winter mountaineering safety training is essential. We caught up with David Lottmann of Northeast Mountaineering for the most crucial information to know before you go.
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Revo: To start, tell us a little bit about what kind of mountain guiding you do and how avalanche safety training fits into this.
David Lottmann: I've been a professional mountain guide for 14 years teaching rock & ice climbing, mountaineering, avalanche safety, and back-country skiing. Since recreating in snowy mountains means dealing with avalanches, and having seen first-hand the damage they can cause, I've dedicated the last ten years to avalanche education.
Revo: What is your essential gear for leading treks?
DL: Essential gear depends on the objective, but the basics are covered by the classic "Ten Essentials" list most hikers & climbers have heard of. Beyond that every adventurer heading into avalanche terrain needs to carry an avalanche beacon, a probe, and a shovel, along with the knowledge and skills to use them. The most important thing to bring is a critical mind and recognize when you don't have the information needed to make a good decision.
Revo: What piece of mountain safety knowledge are you surprised that people do not know?
DL: First, many East Coast adventurers do not realize how much avalanche terrain we have in the East, even outside of the areas forecasted by the Mount Washington Avalanche Center. Anywhere there is a steep slope and snow could lead to an avalanche. The second thing many of my students are surprised to learn is that avalanches are often quite predicable and not random acts of nature.
Revo: Can you share some ways to predict inclement weather and avalanche risk?
DL: Absolutely. In the White Mountains of New Hampshire we have the Higher Summits Forecast from the Mount Washington Observatory along with the daily (during winter) avalanche bulletin from the Mount Washington Avalanche Center. These online tools help immensely with planning a safe trip. During the trip you must be aware of changing conditions in relation to weather and snow-pack. These skills are best learned in a formal avalanche course.
Revo: When mountain guiding, how do you prepare for the worst case scenario? Have you ever had to use this training and knowledge?
DL: Training and routine practice. It starts with a quality Wilderness First Aid course. Then avalanche awareness courses and courses focused on your pursuits (ice climbing, mountaineering, back-country skiing). There are more courses out there than ever before because more and more people are seeking out the back-country over lift-service type skiing. As a member of Mountain Rescue Service I've used this training repeatedly.
Revo: If you want those who take your alpine safety course to walk away with one essential piece of knowledge, what would it be?
DL: The learning never stops. Many students are amazed at how much material we cover in just three days, but the most important feedback we get is that they realize there is so much to learn and that it is a lifelong process. We can recreate in snowy mountains all our lives and come home safe if we pay attention to what's important.
To learn more about the instructional courses David offers and how to schedule, visit Northeast Mountaineering at www.nemountaineering.com.
For behind-the-scenes photos and videos, equipment and gear reviews, and more, follow @Nealpinestart on Instagram.