Mountain Savvy courses open for second year

Mountain Savvy, a course aimed at giving teenagers the mountain travel skills to ski off groomed ski runs as safely as possible, is gearing up for its second season at Eaglecrest Ski Area.

The course, which focuses on “terrain recognition and good travel practices,” is taught by ski patrollers and mountain guides, all of whom work as avalanche professionals.

Last year, according to ski patroller, heliguide and class teacher Chris Eckel, 29 students completed the class. This year, he hopes to increase that number to around 60, though there’s room for more if the need arises. Each one-day class is four hours long.

Teachers spend the first 20 minutes of each class evaluating where each student should start and adjusting the class accordingly.

“It’s pretty easy (to adjust) when you’re trying to fit a lifetime’s worth of skills into four hours,” Eckel said.

Eckel said the class doesn’t attempt to address the terminology “side country,” used to indicate back country that can be accessed with a ski lift, but that the class exists because of the myth that “side country” is easier to ski than back country.

“It’s as different 200 yards from the (Eaglecrest) boundary as it is five miles,” he said. “It’s just as cold and lonely in the mountains tonight outside the Eaglecrest boundary as it was 1,000 years ago. No one should ski alone.”

The first class aimed at the general public is today, Jan. 3. The second is Monday, Jan. 20, the third is Monday, Feb. 17, and the fourth and final class is Friday, March 21.

All classes are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., cost is $25, and each aims to engage kids in the 12-16 age range.

Local stores are offering discounts on avalanche gear to those who complete the class. There’s also a raffle of rescue gear donated by Juneau Mountain Rescue at the end of the season.

It’s because of the support of Eaglecrest Ski Patrol, Alaska Powder Descents, Juneau Mountain Rescue and “almost all” of the ski retailers in Juneau that the classes are offered for an affordable price, Eckel said, adding that similar classes in the Lower 48 are priced at around $150 a class.

“It’s a community effort to pull this class off,” he said.

Learn more at http://www.juneau.org/ecrestftp/MountainSavvy.php.

Contact Outdoors reporter Mary Catharine Martin at maryc.martin@juneauempire.com.

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