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Boise State Public Radio News is here to keep you current on the news surrounding COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Avalanche Center Moves Backcountry Education Online

Sawtooth Avalanche Center

With COVID-19 infection rates soaring, more people are avoiding crowded ski areas and heading to the backcountry for winter sports and recreation. 

Based on early season reports, gear sales and sign-ups for guide services, experts expect people to continue exploring the backcountry this winter

To properly educate people on the dangers and risks associated with backcountry sports, avalanche specialists and ski guides are getting creative, and making more of their educational offerings available online.

The Sawtooth Avalanche Center (SAC) in Sun Valley hosts a talk series called “Digging Deeper.” They teach how to avoid getting caught in an avalanche. Lecturers demonstrate how to find weak layers in the snowpack, and how to make smart group decisions in the backcountry. 

This year, the center is moving the series and its “Introduction to Avalanche” presentation online due to COVID-19. 

The next online presentation will be Thursday, Dec. 17 at 6 p.m

Normally the sessions attract 40 or 50 attendees from the Wood River Valley. This year, on Facebook Live and Zoom, they’ve had 70 to 100 people tune in online — from Blaine County, and across Idaho. 

“We’re nearly doubling our reach,” said Ethan Davis, an avalanche specialist at the SAC.

For its growing audience, the center is bringing in trainers from all over the country. One upcoming session focuses on motor sports safety.

“The instructors will be joining us from California, via Zoom. They’re closely associated with the Sierra Avalanche Center,” Davis said.

Lectures alone have limitations; the center still offers some field courses to teach people how to assess snow layers and rescue companions trapped under the snow. 

Still, Davis hopes hosting online classes and putting outreach materials in gear shops will help reach as many newcomers as possible. 

“It’s more than just buying a beacon, probe and shovel,” he said. “It’s actually understanding how to use those things and be familiar with those things.”

Davis said everyone should check the avalanche forecast before heading into the mountains. And some experts, like Sun Valley Guides, are asking people to consider local hospital and  emergency medical service resources before taking big risks.

“We acknowledge everyone’s desire to get out in the mountains, but please take extra precaution during this critical time,” the guide service wrote in a Facebook post.


Follow Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen for more local news.


Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.