Five classes to save your asses in avalanche country

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Tonight at 6:30 p.m. the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) brings its free Avalanche Terrain -- Beyond the Basics workshop to REI Denver, 1416 Platte Street, aimed at skiers, snowboarders, and others heading into the backcountry this winter. But, as the CAIC points out, even "a 1.5 hour presentation on avalanche terrain is by no means comprehensive and does not replace the need for a multi-day avalanche course." With the first avalanche fatality of the season already behind us, we took a look at this season's best options for better understanding how to manage backcountry risk. 5. Start at your local mountaineering shop. In addition to tonight's workshop, REI is hosting a series of worthwhile avalanche awareness sessions in the next month, including Avalanche Transceiver Basics on November 30, and Winter Backcountry Rescue on December 6, and Terrain Beyond the Basics on December 7. The sessions are free but tend to fill up: Register online to save your spot. The CAIC will also be offering its Backcountry 101 class at Bent Gate Mountaineering in Golden at 6 p.m. on December 1. Boulder's Neptune Mountaineering shop will host the Alpine World Ascents "Terrain Selection" Avalanche Clinic on December 7, and will also host the Colorado Mountain School's Beacon Practice and Avalanche Clinic on December 14.

4. Buddy up. On December 10 the CAIC will host a Companion Rescue Clinic at Arapahoe Basin ($100 per person, plus discounted lift tickets available for $47). By coincidence, December 10 is also A Night in the Swiss Alps, the 2011/2012 season kickoff for A-Basin's popular Moonlight Dinner Series at Black Mountain Lodge: After the clinic you can skin up to mid-mountain and buy your rescue buddy a traditional Swiss banquet dinner ($65 per person; consider it a down payment for the day you need to be dug out).

3. Read all about it. Classes and clinics are probably your best bet, but it's worth doing your homework, too. Start with Avalanche Wise: Your Guide to Avalanche Safety in Colorado, a $2.50 24-page guide published by the CAIC and the Colorado Geological Survey. The CAIC website also offers a variety of online tutorials, including the Forest Service National Avalanche Center's Avalanche Basics for Skiers, Snowboarders, and Snowshoers. Before heading out, check the CAIC's online Backcountry Forecasts, which resumed on November 1. 2. Ask the winner to join your backcountry posse. A-Basin hosts its 10th annual Beacon Bowl and Avalanche Awareness Day on February 11, 2012, with competitors racing to find buried avalanche beacons in timed trials; the perfect way to find the people you want on your side in case of a slide. There will also be avalanche gear demos and a range of clinics, plus an après-ski party known to be legendary. The $25 registration -- and proceeds from the raffle, silent auction, and live auction -- benefits CAIC. 1. No, seriously: Take a class.. If you're serious about searching out backcountry powder, start with one of the many multi-day courses listed on the CAIC Class Calendar and make an adventure out of it. Try the $350 American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) Level 1 "Decision Making in Avalanche Terrain" course from Wolf Creek Avalanche School, December 9-11 (and offered monthly through March 2012), which includes both classroom instruction and field practice on Wolf Creek Pass. Similar courses are offered by Crested Butte Guides, the Colorado Mountain School in Estes Park, the Silverton Avalanche School, the High Mountain Institute in Leadville, Boulder's Alpine World Ascents, and the Colorado Mountain Club.

Bonus: Have fun! The potential spills in the backcountry are very real, but so are the potential thrills. To meet hundreds of like-minded mountain lovers, don't miss the Colorado Mountain Club's annual Backcountry Bash at 5:30 p.m. on December 3 at the American Mountaineering Center, 710 10th Street in Golden (tickets $25 in advance, $30 at the door), and consider joining the CMC ($79) as it enters its centennial year in 2012.

For more on what's happening on the slopes this season, check out The Edge, our 2011/2012 Winter Activity Guide.

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Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


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