Educator Expedition: Avalanche Training in the Tetons

By NOLS Blog

Mar 17, 2016


Digging an Avalanche Pit Digging an avalanche pit. Photo courtesy of Mandeep Nandal.


NOLS instructor Mandeep Nandal writes about receiving avalanche assessment training.

Thanks to receiving IDF funding, I was able to attend a three-day avalanche rescue (Avalanche Recreational Level 1) course run by Yostmark Backcountry Tours in Driggs, Idaho.

Day 1

We began the day of training in a classroom setting learning about avalanche nuances and snow science. We started with a basic introduction to snow formation and the changes snow undergoes with various other variables, like wind and sun.

We spent the second half of the day in the field practicing beacon search in different scenarios.

Day 2

This was a field day, we met early at 7:30 am and in three small groups of 5-6 people headed out to Teton Pass. We spent the day stopping and looking at different slopes, slope angles, and signs of avalanches. We all practiced hand shears to test and gain an initial idea of the snowpack.

Halfway through the day, up in the Moose Brush area, we were taught how to assess a slope and its potential to slide by digging an avalanche (avy) pit.

In my group, we broke into three small teams and dug three pits. The tests we learnt and practiced included hand hardness, compression test, and extended column test.

We then learnt how to ski safely while managing terrain in a group setting.

Day 3

Again, the day started early at 7:30 am. We spent the first half of the day in the field. With a new instructor, we participants were in charge of talking about our terrain assessments. After reaching our ski area for the day, again we dug three separate pits and then performed the tests we had learned the previous day.

As three different teams, we then presented and shared our findings.

After lunch, the entire course met in the classroom to debrief the two field days. We all shared findings and how we went about making the decisions that we had made. Later in the afternoon, we discussed different winter scenarios and our assessment of the avalanche potential for each.

The day ended at 5:00, after three jam-packed days of lots of learning.

I once again would like to thank NOLS for providing the opportunity for me to take this training.

About the Author: Mandeep Nandal is a NOLS instructor from India who likes to spend his time hiking and exploring the Himalayas. He decided to commit this last winter to learn a new skill—skiing. Thanks to the NOLS community, Mandeep was inspired to educate himself about the hazards of backcountry winter travel.


Ski Touring in the Tetons Ski touring in the Tetons. Photo by Mandeep Nandal.


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