After I had some of the best powder days of my entire life in the last couple of weeks, I could feel myself getting more and more caught in the ‘white rush’ that makes you desperate for powder like a drug addict. And just like a drug addict you sometimes don’t think about the consequences at all but do anything, to get your next fix – in powder terms that would be dropping in any open powder field without thinking about avalanche risks at all.
As I could feel the white rush taking over my senses, I decided it was time to learn something about avalanche safety. As I was happy as a butcher’s dog that I had left university a year ago and sick of being lectured, I went for a camp called Risk’n’Fun, hoping the name would fulfil it’s forecast and offer a lot of fun instead of boring lessons.
And it totally did.
To get to the camp in Leogang, Austria, eco-friendly as we are, four of us teamed up to share a car for the drive from Munich. What we didn’t think about is that Munich police seems to hate snowboarders by law (especially if they come in a group) and stopped us before we had even left the city. Thankfully they realized our driver wasn’t the incarnation of evil and let us go on.
Although there were four more girls among the 14 participants, I somehow ended up being the only girl in my group – which was quite nice when the boys helped me through difficult passages in the woods and quite painful when my short legs had to follow the huge steps they tracked in the thigh deep powder.
This actually is the main concept of Risk’n’Fun: instead of making you sit on uncomfortable chairs, listening to theoretic arguments and boring lectures, they take you up the hill in small groups and explain as much as possible on site and while riding.
The main focus is on educating you and giving you as much background information as you need to find your own freeride strategy. In fun little exercises with a trainer and a mountain guide you learn not only to read the mountains, you also learn how important it is to look at the group you’re riding with and yourself really carefully and identify signals for possible dangers like windlips or signs from avalanches that have already gone off.
From the second day on it’s also the task of your group to judge daily conditions and the avalanche risk, decide whether you want to take the risk of dropping in a certain face and discuss different possible lines.
Of course there is also some theory, but the short lessons in the evening more than often end up in role plays, pantomime games and q & a rounds instead of making you fall asleep listening to someone talking.
Putting first lines in untracked faces and hiking up again was the fun part (yes, also the hiking was fun – at least up to a certain point and certain degree of steepness…), but as much as everyone likes to ignore it, you also have to be prepared for the worst case when an avalanche does go down. You get to dig out backpacks, learn how to follow the sometimes quite confusing signals of your transceiver and experience what it’s really like if worst comes to worst.
Some of the experiences I made in this camp shook me to my core, some made me laugh so hard tears came to my eyes and some left me feel so exhausted I thought I will never move an inch of my body again. But most important of all, I’ve learned more during these four days than I have in the last 10 years of riding. Now I not only know how to judge the risk of riding a beautiful face in front of me, but I also know I might be able to save a life that is buried in an avalanche.
So to all the other white-rush-addicts, powder-lovers and freeriders out there: GO TO AN AVALANCHE CAMP!
It’s not boring, it’s not stupid and it’s not full of nerds - it’s full of cool shredders who love powder and want to be able to save themselves and their friends when they’re going freeriding.
A big thanks to the Risk’n’Fun crew Gitti, Sony and Axel for an amazing experience and great work!
And thanks to the Hamburger, Max and downhill-rangers.com for supplying me with pictures - with all the hiking I didn’t even think of getting out my camera and looking for good spots to take pictures…