According to avalanche.org, there have been 34 avalanche-related fatalities in the United States this season, including three in Alaska.
One of those was in Cordova last week, but two struck closer to home last month when an avalanche in the Seattle Creek drainage, near Turnagain Pass, killed two snowmachiners. The riders where wearing beacons and had rescue gear, but it wasn't enough to save them.
A little education might have though, and it may prevent future tragedies such as these from occurring. At least that's the hope of Sean Dewalt, a Snow Dynamics instructor who will be conducting an avalanche safety course in Kenai later this week.
"Skiers, snowmachiners, snowboarders, anybody that recreates in Alaska in winter could benefit by attending this course," he said.
The course is eight hours in length, and covers topics that are relevant for all mountain travelers in Alaska.
"It'll cover avalanche formation, avalanche hazard recognition, terrain management to get through it, travel and trip-planning, and avalanche rescue," Dewalt said.
A little bit of knowledge goes a long way in the backcountry, he added.
"By teaching people how and where avalanches happen and how to identify the terrain, they can avoid these areas and reduce the risk."
Normally avalanche safety courses can cost up to several hundred dollars, but Dewalt said the price of this upcoming course can't be beat.
"The class has been sponsored by a grant from the State of Alaska Department of Public Safety, so it's totally free," he said.
Between the subject matter and the cost, the class is filling up fast. Dewalt is asking interested participants to reserve their space early.
"We can take up to 45 people and we've got 30 signed up right now," he said.
Dewalt added that winter outdoor recreationalists shouldn't miss this opportunity.
"If you're serious about recreating in the mountains, you owe it to yourself, your family and your friends to get educated about avalanche safety and this course could save your life," he said.
The course will be held at Cook Inlet Aquaculture Kalifornsky Beach Road on March 19 and March 20, and split into two evening sessions, each from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. For more information or to preregister call 907-775-2600 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at email@example.com.
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