How to train safety skills for the mountains – Part 1

Reinhold Messner’s vision on mountaineering; "Mountains are neither fair nor unfair, they are dangerous,” seems a bit outdated these days. Times have changed. Mountaineering is now considered a multifaceted outdoor activity, and we long to own the latest pieces of gear or live up to the images portrayed on social media. The aspirations of riding big lines in winter often overshadows a pragmatic sense of risk.

Traditional processes used to reach higher levels on rock, ice and skiing are now formality with the accessibility of climbing gyms, dry-tooling crags and new gear. Advanced technical gear like ice axes and wide skis has exploded the outdoor adventure population.

The only thing that has remained the same throughout are the mountains.

Gym climbing doesn’t teach you much about climbing outdoors, and hooking ice falls at the ice park takes away from learning technique.

You may make it out of your adventure alive, but it doesn’t mean you made all the right choices. You could have just gotten lucky. Knowledge-based decision making is acquired with proper training. How to get proper training?


Training ... Did you say training?

You need the right skills to play safely in the mountains.
 You have to know how to use your state-of-the-art avalanche beacon. But, learning how to avoid the worst is the first step.  This can sometimes create FOMO (fear of missing out) and lend itself to the impression that you have wasted your day if you haven’t laid fresh tracks in deep powder! 

Training means asking yourself the right questions and making a knowledge and experience - based decision that provides you with the right balance between joy and risk. Watch this video to get a good insight into this process. 

Be in charge of your own safety and don’t rely on rescue to buffer your decision making. Mountains have limits and rules that need to be respected for the good of all.

Planning, training and marketing

The Outdoor Industry has a different way to approach issues related to a lack of experience and the growing demand.
 There are now marked ski touring trails and ski schools offer introduction to ski touring lessons. There are areas with artificially made ice like in Ouray, Aiguilles en Queyras (France) and many others sites where climbers can ice climb without having to understand ice conditions.This is a good way to discover and learn about these activities. However, wanting to apply these tactics to the high mountains by securing certain areas raises important questions regarding the direction mountaineering is taking.

Manufacturers of technical products have made safety their new warhorse; they have also understood that they need to be build a bond with their customers that goes beyond providing them a manual with the piece of product they purchase. The many “Academy” events  - Ortovox Safety Academy, Salomon Mountain Academy, Arcteryx Academy, to name a few -  that manufacturers are offering make it possible for people to learn from and connect with professionals, and become even more enthusiastic about these activities.

The question this raises though is the following: is the emphasis on marketing or on the content? And what is the next step in learning and applying this knowledge in the field?

The web or virtual knowledge

The Internet offers a vast array of tutorials, tips and advice of all types, as well as weather forecasts, avalanche bulletins and risk assessment, and other applications. This information is often thorough and readily accessible thanks to the 4G network. Providing you have the time, you will find good information and very educational videos on the web. What matters though is putting this knowledge into practice in the field. However, it is important to remember that anyone can publish these videos online and that no one is filtering the quality of the content that is published. So, keep a critical outlook on the content!

To plan and prepare for your outing is still the most important tool to be safe in the mountains and to have a successful adventure. The Internet often provides the illusion of an immediate solution to a problem.

In our next post, we will dive into:
 What approach should I take to training? What tools will allow me to really progress based on my level? Events, federal training, professionals and clubs that can help you. How tools and databases can also enhance your overall experience.

Stay tuned!

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