The Inertia

Forty five women, most wearing long underwear and beanies, sit perfectly still in a makeshift classroom. Snow falls lightly outside, enhancing the mountain backdrop, but the women are focused on Elyse only. It’s not easy to achieve pure silence in a room of forty five powder-crazed women, but Elyse Saugstad’s story of surviving an avalanche commands this type of attention.  Soon she makes a joke, and everyone is standing, giving hugs and laughing again.  A SAFE AS clinic day is like this — plenty of powerful learning moments, sharing and discussion plus lots of silliness, giggling, and an afternoon of playing and learning out in the snow.

If you’re male and you rolled your eyes or felt uncomfortable reading that last sentence — Sharing?  Feelings?  Giggling?  Um… — welcome to one of the main reasons we decided to start an all-women’s avalanche clinic. Elyse Saugstad, Michelle Parker, Jackie Paaso, and myself were all part of a Level 1 AIAIRE course a few years ago, taught by our friend, mentor, and all-around badass Lel Tone, and the class just happened to be all women.  All of us have taken classes with guys as well (nothing against that of course) and we realized that sometimes women learn differently and relate differently to one another when intense subjects are on the table.

A few coffee dates and yoga sessions later, the first SAFE AS (Skiers/Snowboarders Advocating and Fostering Education And Snow Safety… okay, it spells out “safe ass” but we thought we should try to be a little more mature for once) hatched at Squaw Valley. Since then, we have advocated snow safety, learning, avalanche rescue skills, and giggling to nearly 200 women, all packed into seven different one-day clinics with yoga, classroom and on-hill education and an after-party with raffles and tons of prizes. Along with our amazing participants and resort partners, we’ve raised nearly $7000 for charities that help promote snow and avalanche safety. We are learning so much and it feels like we are gaining momentum with snow safety and awareness in general, and this December we will be visiting four different resorts in three states for a total of six clinics.

If you can’t join us this year, then please tell someone about us or another avalanche education opportunity. And even more importantly, just talk to your snow friends and backcountry and ski/snowboard partners about safety. Together, let’s make the discussion about snow safety and the avalanche forecast as daily and as normal as a conversation about the weather or the snow. Giggling and hugs optional.


For more information on SAFE AS, visit  Also, hang out with them Twitter and Instagram as well as on Facebook. Upcoming sessions are:

December 7 & 8 at Squaw Valley, California
December 13 at Crystal Mountain, Washington
December 14 at Stevens Pass, Washington
December 20 & 20 at Copper Mountain, Colorado

To keep up with Ingrid Backstrom, be sure to follow her on Instagram and Twitter, and Like her on Facebook.



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