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Park County is home to Montana’s tallest mountain, Granite Peak, and the same mountain range in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness is home to Montana’s deadliest avalanche terrain.

So when Park High School student Sam Saarel asked his science teacher, Alecia Jangeward, if he could join her and her spouse, Eric Larson, an avalanche safety instructor, on a backcountry ski trip, the response was, well … not so fast. Jangeward inquired on Saarel’s avalanche safety training and he reported he had none. Jangeward realized Saarel and other students needed training. With support from the Friends of the Gallatin National Forest Avalanche Center and Park County Environmental Council, a free, two-day course was organized and subsequently well attended. The first part of the course took place at the Park High’s RecPlex and brought in about 50 people, followed by a four-hour field course on Sunday attended by 25 students from Livingston and Bozeman. At the RecPlex, students learned avalanche terrain recognition, the effect weather has on avalanche hazard, the development of mountain snowpack, decision-making skills, rescue techniques and avalanche rescue gear. On Sunday,

the skills were applied in the snow and rain mixture that fell at Mill Creek’s U.S. Forest Service access site. With help from Larson and other local instructors, including Josh Olson and Mark Greeno, students practiced three course goals of learning how to:

1) Dig a snow pit, perform stability tests and interpret avalanche conditions.

2) Wear and operate an avalanche beacon.

3) Perform a mock rescue, including single and multiple burial searches. Asked why he was attending an avalanche safety course on a Saturday at Mill Creek, Park High School student Jasper Schuerr said simply, “Because I don’t want to die in an avalanche.” Along with learning how to stay alive in the wintry mountains of Montana, prizes, including an avalanche beacon courtesy of Timber Trails and hats from Patagonia in Dillon were raffled following the Sunday course.

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