Plain and simple, there are too many people riding snowmobiles in backcountry areas when avalanche conditions are way too great. That means too many people are taking risks, too many people are getting taken down the mountain in an avalanche, too many people are getting killed. If you have ever been riding and been involved in an avalanche, or had to dig frantically trying to find your friend, brother or riding acquaintance, you know all too well how terrifying this experience can be wondering if you will uncover them barely breathing and alive, or all blue and stiff. It ain’t pretty, but it is reality. This scenario is playing out far too many times each winter, simply because people are riding at places and times they should not be, mostly because they don’t truly understand the risks.
Plain and simple, snowmobilers need to learn more about avalanche conditions, specifically when and where to NOT be taking their mountain sleds. Currently avalanche knowledge dissemination is not effectively reaching enough riders and the many new mountain riders. There are knowledge gaps in avalanche education and backcountry skills. The social media is driving more riders to visit unfamiliar terrain.
Avalanche training is important for many reasons. Many riders do not recognize avalanche terrain and are not checking forecasts or altering ride decisions based on the information they find. Many individuals have the proper gear but have not learned how to use it and are not practicing with it. The lack of training and proficiency in rescue is another leading issue of importance.
To this end, the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (ISMA) is launching an all-new avalanche educator program called “Backcountry Ascender”. The Backcountry Ascender effort is sponsored by all the members of ISMA – Arctic Cat, BRP, Polaris, and Yamaha.
Backcountry Ascender is a free and simple backcountry & avalanche educator. The application uses good-natured competition to help riders learn and improve their backcountry knowledge, skills, practical experience, and confidence.
The engaging and competitive application is composed of an industry and peer reviewed curriculum of self-directed lessons and in-person courses. Riders can earn points for completing lessons and courses to increase their rank as well as that of their club, state association, dealer, and snowmobile brand. Industry sponsors are being encouraged to provide prizes and coupon codes that are unlocked by riders who earn higher badge ranks.
The objective is to make snowmobilers the most prepared and knowledgeable back country user group in the mountains. The Backcountry Ascender Program is not an online course but it is self-directed e-learning combined with traditional hands on learning. The learning program is based on a proven educational platform that was designed for professional development. The key to the program is that:
• It establishes peer accountability.
• It is easy to implement.
• It is localized, yet international in scope.
The curriculum will be based on a peer approved content starting with Avalanche Canada and the American Avalanche Association. The curriculum will evolve as new content is continuously added and updated.
The Backcountry Ascender Program is not disruptive but complementary. The intent of the Backcountry Ascender Program is not to replace traditional avalanche awareness safety courses, but to have existing courses fit into the level and badging structure encouraged in the program. The intent is to drive both knowledge and annually renewing the knowledge.
The snowmobile manufacturers of ISMA and the Backcountry Ascender team and avalanche trainers involved in developing the program have found that snowmobilers are thirsty for knowledge. They have also found that most snowmobilers pride themselves in being knowledgeable on their machines and their riding skills.
Everyone involved with the Backcountry Ascender program are looking forward to expanding education of snowmobilers across the world and working with all interested parties in continually improving, sustaining, and expanding the plan.