Osprey brand team ambassador Joey Thompson recently returned from an avalanche education course and ski touring in and around Valdez, Alaska. Joey took part in the The American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education’s (AIARE) level 1 avalanche instructor training course. AIARE is a non-profit organization whose goal is to “provide avalanche instructors with the tools to educate students about the knowledge and decision making skills necessary to travel in avalanche terrain.” With a pedigree in the outdoors to rival even the most experienced mountaineers, Joey is the perfect guy to test Osprey gear in the backcountry. He came to Alaska equipped with an Osprey Variant 37 and had this to say about the training:
The Variant 37 is the perfect size to carry all that I needed. For light touring days I was able to get by with a bit less. When on the avi course I was able to load a bit more. What I really liked for the touring days was the crampon pouch, I stored my skins in the pouch to cut down on transition time. I also liked the finger zippers to get in and out of the lids where I stored goggles and snacks. The ski carrying capabilities were another big benefit easy on easy off with good weight distribution. AIARE put on a level 1 instructor course for people like me to be able to provide high level education to outdoor minded people. It is a course that has taught me to better relate to my students and relay the information to them in a more recycled/refined way. The avalanche course is wrapped around decision making skills in the backcountry going from the ground up and then managing from the top down. We provide a decision making framework, field observations check list, tour planning and preparation that is to be used by the student. We start every morning in the classroom and finish the afternoon in the field. The “field” included the rugged terrain of Valdez, AK. Situated at the head of a deep, stillwater fjord in the northeast section of Prince William Sound, Valdez is surrounded by the Chugach Mountains. They are the most heavily glaciated mountains in the Northwest. Our training and skiing was around 27 Mile Glacier and The Odyssey on Thompson Pass up the road from Valdez. This is where the majority of the skiing happens in Valdez. I also skied Sugarloaf Mountain. As a town, Valdez is remote. Being from Colorado, I thought that some of our small towns were remote, but Valdez is on a whole other level. With a town size of full time residences at 4800 people and with one small grocery store this makes a perfect escape of all the hustle and bustle of the lower 48. Valdez is the northernmost ice-free port in North America and the town covers 274 square miles. I met a couple of guides from from Valdez Heli-Ski Guides who were also in my training class and while I’d love to try it one day, my skiing on this trip consisted of skinning up the mountain and then skiing down, by my own devices. The price of these heli tours is $1000/day based on how many feet down the clients want to ride or ski. The guides are really hard working and show their clients a great time.