So this year I moved from the east to the west and I really wanted to get into touring and that means going out of bounds. I spent a lot of time researching different message boards for information and didn't really find a comprehensive guide of "where to start" so to speak to earn some real basic knowledge. And of course I was embarrassed to ask questions like "What beacon is the easiest to learn with" etc. So after completing a ton of research I am going to summarize what I learned for you here. Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert at this stuff at all, this is basically a summary of the stuff I have found through numerous books, videos, and message boards. Don't hold me accountable and feel free to provide anything extra or make any corrections.
Step 1- Get some Knowledge: Going into the backcountry without knowledge of rescue and snow science is suicide. Even the most knowledgeable experts out there still constantly practice and take different courses to update their skills. To get started I would read a couple books, from what I have been told the best two books are "staying alive in avalanche terrain" by Bruce Tremper and "Snow Sense" by Jill Fredston and Doug Fesler, the books are available here:
There are also a bunch of good movies/online tutorials to watch. Check out the Canadian avalanche association website here:
Hint* If you live in Canada the CAA website also provides some broad forecast information and training programs.
Step 2- Watch some avalanche Movies. A good idea here is to try and "scare the shit out of yourself". When you first start learning in the backcountry you want to always feel scared. This way you will be more cautious. It seems many accidents happen because people think they know everything just from a book and a course. You will NEVER no even close to anything. The whole idea is to try and minimize the number of mistakes/misjudgments you make so you can reduce your risks of being caught in a slide. This video was posted on the TGR site and is really interesting:
Part 1- http://www.lifeonterra.com/episode.php?id=77
Part 2- http://www.lifeonterra.com/episode.php?id=78
Part 3- http://www.lifeonterra.com/episode.php?id=79
Step 3- Buy some gear. Still interesting after gaining some basic knowledge and scaring the crap out of yourself. Now it is time to shop around for some gear. Gear is pretty personal and I am NOT an expert here so I am basically relaying back what I was told form other people. Get a long probe, 200CM won't cut it, go for 250+. Get a strong shovel, you really don't want to chink out here, that shovel will be saving your friend not you, imagine how you will feel about saving 20 bucks if it bends when your trying to dig out your buddy? Also, avoid the "probe in shovel handle" kits, they have a reputation for being cheap and time consuming. As far as beacons go there seems to be two choices. For beginners the Tracker from BCA is easy to learn with and is simple. If you want something a little bit higher end then look at the Pulse or the Pieps, both have better ranges and stronger multi burial capabilities. You should also highly consider buying an avalung, just google it and read some of the stories. So yeah, minimum beacon shovel probe but you should also consider an avalung and first aid supplies etc.
Step 4- Take a course or two. There are a number of good courses offered by different organizations. I can't speak about the US courses but here in Canada the first course you will want is the AST Level 1 from the CAA. This is a bare minimum of introduction training you will want. In the course they teach you more about snow science, safety, and rescue and reading those books earlier will help you absorb and understand the information provided for you in the course.
Step 5- Find some buddies and practice your rescue skills. Although it is a last resort, you want to be a strong rescuer. You have very limited amounts of time to work with before brain damage and death kick in so you want to make sure your skills are fast and reliable.
Step 6- Understand the Consequences. Being a strong rescuer and having some basic knowledge of snow science doesn't mean your free to go as you please. It seems a lot of emphasis is placed online and in some books on rescue but in staying alive in avy terrain Tremper talks a lot about how this is a last resort. If you have to rescue you have already failed. And the chances of pulling off a rescue with no problems is scotch free. So don't rely on your rescue skills to save your butt.
Before you go out- You should follow forecasts and weather on a daily basis. Reading it every morning with your breakfast. Don't risk going out if the conditions aren't perfect especially when your first starting. When your first starting out go with someone who has supreme experience. You still don't know shit and are at big risk.
So that's a quick summary of some steps noobs can take to "get into it" so to speak. Obviously go talk to your local shops, forecasters etc for more details. TGR has a lot more information about this stuff then NS so hopefully some of you will go over there and read around. One GREAT thread is this one:
It links to a TON of information so that will give you some reading as well.
Chow, and be safe.