We’ve all been there—standing high on a ridge, about to drop into an untracked powder field, say, or leaning back over a cliff, on rappel—when that moment of doubt hits: Am I about to trigger an avalanche? Is this anchor safe? And despite the brisk mountain air, you start to sweat.
Arc’teryx wants to help prevent that feeling—not just by outfitting you in breathable jackets, but by equipping you with better decision-making skills in the mountains. That’s the concept behind the Arc’teryx Academies, the brand’s series of events featuring mountain-skills clinics by day and, by evening, music, speakers, parties, and film screenings. The idea originated 14 years ago in Squamish, British Columbia, and there are now three academies a year: an alpine-focused one in Chamonix every July, the original climbing-focused one in B.C. later that month, and, this February 7-10, the second annual Arc’teryx Backcountry Academy in Jackson Hole.
2019 Arc’teryx Backcountry Academy
February 7-10, 2019
Air Arrival: Fly into Jackson Hole Airport (JAC)
Basecamps: Snow King Resort, Grand Teton National Park
Social Tag: #ArcteryxAcademy
Offered in partnership with Exum Mountain Guides, the Jackson Hole event is an array of half-day clinics on crevasse rescue, snow-pit assessment, ski touring, ski mountaineering, and more. Clinics are taught by Exum guides and a roster of Arc’teryx athletes, including Michelle Parker, Greg Hill, and Eric “Hoji” Hjorleifson, and they’re broken down by skill level—beginner, intermediate, and advanced—with dozens of options available over the three days, including a few sessions on ski photography.
In addition to all the fun stuff in the evening, what sets the Arc’teryx Academy apart from Exum’s normal guided experiences and clinics, says Brenton Reagan, lead guide and marketing manager for Exum, is its affordability. Academy clinics are priced à la carte, and the options run from half-day workshops in town ($80) to all-day guided backcountry trips in Grand Teton National Park, which start at $215, about half Exum’s normal all-day rate. “It’s hard for a lot of people to justify hiring a guide,” says Reagan, in terms of both cost and, perhaps, ego. “On the other hand, even jaded Jackson locals don’t mind springing for a clinic or a workshop. Education doesn't carry the stigma of being guided.” And education is what it’s all about, says Arc’teryx’s John Irvine, senior manager of global community marketing for the brand. “The Academies were developed to enable people to thrive in the playgrounds and sports that Arc’teryx makes its products for. We want people to evolve in their abilities, but also in risk management and decision making so that people can make safety in the mountains the biggest priority.”
Responding to feedback from last year’s participants, this year’s Backcountry Academy will have more clinics dedicated to safety and decision-making in avalanche terrain. The organizers have also added a multi-day, classroom-based clinic called “How to Ski a New Line,” which takes participants through all the research and tactics necessary to complete a ski objective in an unfamiliar mountain range—from accessing topographical maps and avalanche forecasts to route planning. It sold out within a week.
As educational as the weekend is, the actual skills learned are only part of what makes the Academies so special. Last year Arc’teryx pro skier Michelle Parker co-led an intermediate women’s ski-touring clinic. Some of the women had never ski toured before, much less topped out 3,000 feet above Grand Teton National Park’s Avalanche Canyon. “Everyone was so encouraging of each other,” says Parker. “It’s so much easier to step through your boundaries in a supportive group, and when that happens, the thrill is magnified.” That experience is further enriched, Parker says, when you run into other groups on the descent, in the parking lot, or at the evening programs, and you get to spin up your experiences into valuable memories. Memories that will outlast Instagram and hopefully help you make good decisions the next time you’re standing atop a windy mountain ridge, with no guide in sight.
Arc’teryx hosts three events around the world each year to foster education and engage mountain communities with clinics. Click to learn more about the events in Chamonix and Squamish. | Hero image: Andy Bardon