Laying Tracks

Building a Foundation for Winter Backcountry Travel


All workshops are sponsored by MSR and REI. 


Join Northwest Avalanche Center’s staff and hone your existing tool-sets for traveling in the backcountry during winter. Each workshop focusses on a skill that helps you build a travel plan and understand your resources for traveling in avalanche terrain. Workshops are dynamic, interactive, and hands-on. The workshop concludes with an optional field day, where you have the opportunity to use your newly developed skills to create a travel plan and go for a tour with NWAC instructors up the Snoqualmie Valley.

Participants should have a rudimentary understanding of avalanches as founded in an awareness course. We recommend that participants have taken an awareness course and have a foundation in summer travel. This workshop series will prepare you for a Level 1 avalanche course, so that you may be a more effective student and get more out of your Level 1 experience.

Sign-Up: NWAC recommends that participants sign-up for all four workshops, as collectively, they build a complete picture for trip planning. Participants also have the option to sign-up for individual classes.


Where: REI Seattle

Cost: $15 for REI members, $35 for non-members (proceeds go to NWAC)


Session 1:

Trip Planning & Prep: identifying gear and resources for winter travel

When: Monday, October 29th, presentation begins promptly at 6:00pm – 8:30pm

Ever wondered what you would use to repair your touring equipment if something broke when you’re five miles deep into your adventure, or speculated whether you’d survive with the gear you have if you got stuck out for a blizzardy night? This workshop walks you through prepping your pack and settling on resources for your upcoming winter backcountry trip. Our seasoned backcountry professionals will discuss what has worked best for them, their strategy for packing, and the resources they use to plan their backcountry traveling adventures. Bring your gear and pack, we’ll give you some feedback.

Register here: Laying Tracks - Trip Planning


Session 2:

Winter Navigation: using topos to identify avalanche terrain and snowpack development

When: Tuesday, December 4th, presentation begins promptly at 6:00pm – 8:30pm

You know how to look at a topographic map and visualize the terrain you are about to enter. Have you thought about how those contour lines can help you identify avalanche terrain, terrain traps, best routes to travel safely through avalanche terrain, and how terrain affects the snowpack? Join NWAC for a night of exploring maps through the lens of winter travel. Our instructors will guide you through activities that helps you select a safe route through avalanche terrain using topographic maps, NWAC forecasting products, and other tools.

Register here: Laying Tracks - Winter Navigation


Session 3

NWAC Forecast: making the most of an avalanche forecast

When: Tuesday, January 8th, presentation begins promptly at 6:00pm-8:30pm

You are aware of the danger scale, but did you know that not all “considerable” ratings are created equal? During this workshop, our professional NWAC observers will help you navigate and become more familiar with NWAC’s avalanche forecasts. Participants will engage in a technology driven activity, that helps identify key take-aways from the forecast and how to best use our avalanche forecast as a tool you can apply to the field in your terrain selection process.

Register here: Laying Tracks - Avalanche Forecasts


Session 4:

Mountain Weather Forecasts: using weather forecasts to optimize your plan

When: Tuesday, February 5th, presentation begins promptly at 6:00pm-8:30pm

Temperatures are falling, and the easterly flows are working their magic; how will weather trends impact your plan? Weather is a huge factor that should fold into your winter trip planning, as it plays a large part in snowpack development. Join NWAC’s avalanche meteorologists and forecasters to discuss how you can best use our purpose-built mountain weather forecasts to prep for your next adventure and learn how to apply forecasting language to your terrain selection.

Register here: Laying Tracks - Mountain Weather Forecasts


Field Day: Putting It All Together

When: Saturday/Sunday, February 16th 9:00am – 4:00 pm

Where: Snoqualmie Pass, Instructor/Student Ratio: 1:5 or 2:10

Cost: $80

Apply your newly developed skills to create a trip plan and go for a tour up the Snoqualmie Valley with NWAC instructors. The day will start in the Alpental lodge, where we make a plan given all the information we have available to us. The groups will then follow their plan with the guidance of NWAC instructors, focusing on observations, communication, backcountry ethics, and mechanics. We strongly recommend that participants have been to the four Laying Tracks Workshops leading up to this field day.

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