Backcountry Club balances safety and fun as the new season approaches

Charlie Hunter, Campus Life Reporter

The Whitman Backcountry Club is gearing up for another season this winter. With movie nights, weekend trips to Oregon and courses on avalanche safety in the near future, the Backcountry Club is focused on giving students a safe and fun experience in the mountains.

Catering to a different experience than taking the chairlift at Bluewood, backcountry skiing takes place outside of the ski resort and requires the skier to hike up the hill using just their legs and maybe a few granola bars.

Club president and sophomore Jasper Welly provided the club’s mission statement.

It is the mission of the Whitman College Backcountry Club to promote interest in backcountry skiing through the use of outings, safety demonstrations and other events,” Welly said.

While the reward for such an effort is fresh snow in a quiet setting, it comes at a price, as skiers in the backcountry are without the protection of medical assistance or avalanche control. Club leader and senior Jack Thomsen spoke on how the club navigates this line between safety and fun.

“Navigating risk in the backcountry is really difficult, and it all comes down to your personal decisions. You’re never going to be completely safe, but [with] the Backcountry Club, we work to teach skills to minimize risk as much as possible,” Thomsen said. “The primary way that we attempt to develop these skills is through offering an Avalanche Safety Level 1 course each winter, taught by the Wallowa Avalanche Center, which is paid for by the club.”  

Once students have gained preliminary knowledge by completing an avalanche safety course, the Backcountry Club works to give students hands-on experience applying these skills in the mountains before stepping too far outside of their comfort zones. 

“We work to develop a culture that pushes each other forward and encourages fun, while at the same time recognizing and being respectful of the innate dangers,” Thomsen said. “When introducing anyone new to the sport, obviously you want to tone it down and stay safe in the mountains. That means starting outside of avalanche terrain and major hazards to get comfortable with what it means to be in the backcountry.

Honing your skills in the backcountry is what draws a lot of students to the club, but there is plenty of space for those who are just looking to have some fun in a more casual setting. Club leader and senior Will Weisz spoke on this matter.

“I also think that keeping it mellow is a key to making [it] fun. It isn’t always about doing the steepest, gnarliest line; a lot of people want to just get some turns in good snow,” Weisz said.

Whether you’ve never put on a pair of skis before or you can navigate the mountains blindfolded, the Backcountry Club is a space for you. Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming events and ski trips this coming winter, as the Backcountry Club plans to provide nothing but fun and safe turns in deep snow.