The Betties Session 1

Tarin O’Donnell

Popularity in the backcountry skiing and riding world has grown substantially in the last few years, and not just among men. Since 08-09 women’s specific equipment sales has increased 87%! That goes to show that men aren’t the only powder hounds and us ladies will do what it takes to get to that fresh, untouched powder, even if that means skiing uphill all day just to get that one good line. Backcountry skiing challenges you and humbles you. The ropes and chair lifts are gone, ski patrol is nowhere around, and you’re just out there with Mother Nature, hoping you’ve caught her on a good day. Technological advances in backcountry gear is making the backcountry more accessible than ever before. When there is lack of snow, and the resorts are crazy busy it is very tempting to grab your skins, snowshoes, or snow machine and find some fresh powder. However, making the switch from resort riding to backcountry riding isn’t as simple as just switching out your gear. As I said before, out there the ropes, lifts, and ski patrol are all gone and Mother Nature will do her thing whether you are there or not. Getting the proper safety equipment is the most important gear you can have, and getting the proper training on how to use it is even more important!

Along with the flood of popularity in backcountry riding is the rise in avalanche accidents. These two things go hand in hand. Avalanches are always a risk, no matter how prepared or experienced you are. The mountains don’t care if you have a shovel, beacon, probe, if you read the forecast and even dug a pit to evaluate the layers of the snowpack. A snowpack is very complex and no one can ever say with certainty that an avalanche is %100 impossible on any given day. This is why it is so very important to get educated on avalanche safety and to only go out in the backcountry with people who share this knowledge.

As women, sometimes we take a backseat to speaking up when we are unsure or uncomfortable in a situation. Especially when in a group of all men. We have intuition though, and when you are in a situation you feel leery about, man or woman, it is best to follow that gut feeling, particularly in the backcountry. Being thoroughly educated can help your confidence in speaking up and voicing your opinions to your group of touring partners. An open line of communication is key when your lives can be at stake.

This year Shred Betties has done an amazing thing and has created a series of clinics offering backcountry education, terrain park clinics, and lessons for all levels. February 5th-6th was the first ever Betties Sessions at Powder Mountain in Utah. I participated in the backcountry clinic taught by Liz Hebertson, a Utah local and snow safety expert. Liz was absolutely amazing and incredibly knowledgeable. It was an amazing experience to be surrounded by women who were so stoked to learn about backcountry safety, and shredding of course! We went through beacon practice first with two awesome female patrollers from Powder Mountain, Michelle and Nicole, one step at a time…step one: turning it on!! (most important step) Every beacon is a little bit different so it’s crucial to get familiar with your beacon! After we got comfortable with the different modes of the beacons, Michelle and Nicole went over proper probing and shoveling techniques. Then we did a little practice search for a beacon that the ladies had previously buried for us to find. We met back up with Liz to learn how to dig pits and evaluate the snowpack. Here we were also practicing the techniques in partner shoveling, learning how to work together and switch out so each of you is using your energy as efficiently as possible because shoveling avalanche debris is no easy task, and time is of the essence. After about 15 minutes of being buried in an avalanche, ones chance of survival starts to decrease dramatically. This is why it is imperative to know how to use your safety equipment and to practice using these skills often with your friends!

First round of beacon practice.

Probing practice.

Liz showed us a few tests in the pit to conduct in order to better understand the snowpack and observe the different layers of it. We learned how to do a hand hardness test, compression test, and extended column test. Although it was sunny out, we were mostly in the shade and some of us started freezing our toes off a bit, we were so ready for lunch at this point! On our ride down to the lodge we were stopped by a ski patroller waving us down. Liz and the Powder Mountain ski patrol team had arranged a real life scenario search for us. This was by far my favorite part of the clinic! The chance to get to practice using our beacons while riding down was way different than just walking in a relatively flat snowfield looking for one. My heart started pounding when I was put in charge of the beacon search for my group. I was so worried I was going to ride right past the beacon and have to hike back up, which would be wasting a lot of precious time. But a few deep breathes, and some concentration got me back on track. With my team following close behind me we located the beacon, made a probe strike and shoveled the beacon out in 4 minutes and 30 seconds. After this we rode down a bit further to meet the rest of the girls to learn how to do a probe line. This is where rescuers stand in a row and move uniformly probing from left to right, moving one step forward at a time, as a group. This is something that happens when there are multiple rescuers, and in the case that the victims were not wearing beacons. We then got to see an avalanche dog in training go to work. It was awesome to watch the dog sniff around and find the spot where we had unburied our beacon and where a glove (visual clue) was found, and then to find and unbury the item ski patrol left for the dog to dig up herself!

The whole team getting ready to dig our pits

Up close and personal with the snowflakes, studying the structure of the different layers.

The avi dog at work!

Had to get a group shot with the pup smile

By this time we are all definitely starving, we met up at a lodge with the other girls who were doing the terrain park clinic and had lunch. After lunch we split back up into our groups and us backcountry girls got to take a cat ride up to Lightning Ridge. Although the day had been great we were all very excited to be able to just ride and take some pow turns! At the top of the ridge we spoke about terrain choices and planning our descent as a group. We had an awesome run down, and ended the day with some swag, brews, and dinner! This clinic was such an amazing experience. We learned so much valuable information, and got to practice putting it all to work as we went along. What made this experience so special for me was the group of women that was there. It’s great to get out of your comfort zone and learn new things, and to feel like you’ve got a group of ladies there backing you is an amazing feeling. Many people hadn’t had any formal education on avalanche safety, and the Betties Session clinic offered an open forum to ask questions and not hold back. We made it a rule that you could not say sorry! We realized that us ladies tend to say sorry a lot for no reason, having a question or not understanding is not grounds for saying sorry! A few sorries slipped here and there but at least the questions were still being asked. That is something I am personally working on, speaking up in a group when traveling in the backcountry. You need to trust the people you are with, but you also need to trust yourself and if you don’t feel comfortable about the terrain you are in you have to voice that. The Betties Sessions helped me remember that it’s perfectly ok to ask questions and start discussions, in fact it could be crucial to yours and others safety when in the backcountry.

Before loading up the cat!

Everyone back together at the end of the day, cheersing with our Ninakasi brews!

There are two more stops of The Betties Sessions coming up this season! Catch them at Sierra-At-Tahoe, in South Lake Tahoe, CA for a Lady Shred Day March 5th- offering pre-shred yoga, followed by lady shred day, topping it of with an après party! And March 12th at Stevens Pass, WA for morning yoga & juice, terrain park clinics for all levels, shredding, and an après party!

Register here:

Stevens Pass


Posted by Tarin O'Donnell on 03/02/16

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