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It's all so overwhelming

Working with beginners in the backcountry takes a special touch.

One of the activities I do in the classroom on the first morning of my L1 avy courses is the route finding slide activity.

I give a student volunteer a laser pointer and ask them to trace a route through complex mountain terrain that I've projected on a screen. Students struggle with this exercise. They are overwhelmed and often times fall into a weird, Analysis Paralysis state. And we're not even outside yet...

In the following article published by Backcountry Magazine, Tommy Gram reflects upon avalanche education and the mental challenges beginning students face. I appreciate Gram's identity as an educator- intentional or not, his tone and techniques in this piece betray a strong sense for participant's emotional safety and stress the need for appropriate growth and development in avalanche terrain.

Mountain Skills: How to Overcome Avalanche Education Anxiety

by Tommy Gram November 29, 2017

As an avalanche course instructor, I’m often confronted with students who come to me with a ton of questions after taking an Avy Level 1 course. In a lot of ways, that’s what Level 1 courses are for: inspiring questions and pointing out just how complex avalanches really are and how difficult terrain management can be.

But the anxiety about the dangers of avalanche terrain can be debilitating. I reassure people that these feelings of ineptitude will slowly evolve into a healthy respect for the mountains and that no matter how long you have been making turns, you will always have questions about proper safety techniques. There are unfortunately no magic snowpack tests or short cuts to making decisions that eliminate this anxiety, but the good news is that gaining experience is half the fun.


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