How To: Evaluate Self Arrest Skills Without Snow

A record low amount of snow left the Basic Climbing Course leaders brainstorming ways to evaluate students during their final Field Trip for the course: Hard Snow and Ice Axe Self-Arrest. A peak into the past helped our instructors formulate a plan!
Jim Paxinos Jim Paxinos
June 17, 2015

Due to the record lack of snow this season, we spent weeks trying to figure out how we were going to do FT 7 Hard Snow and Ice Axe Self-Arrest, the final field trip for the Basic Class. Of course, in my infinite wisdom, I volunteered several months earlier to lead this FT because they were one leader short. I had no idea what I was getting into.

VERY long story short, as of 1-week prior to the FT, we still had been unable to confirm snow at any location or altitude that would work for a single-day FT to test out these skills. But, the show must go on!

About 5-days prior to the scheduled trip, I reached out to our most experienced leaders one last time for any ideas we hadn't considered. That's when Dan Lauren sent me the below pic of a photo he dug up from the archives. It's a 1950 picture of the Mountaineers practicing the exact same skills we needed to test ..... on a sand pile!

 1950s Mountaineers self arrest on sand

I scoured possible locations for a similar sand pile around the entire Tacoma and surrounding areas - and was subsequently rejected by every one of them. For pits and construction sites it was liability concerns. For parks, they weren't really receptive to having their hills aerated with ice axes....

Three days prior to the trip, I called a Tacoma sand & gravel company called Randles. The manager was very sympathetic to our dilemma and bent over backwards to accommodate our needs. Unfortunately they did not have any sand piles available currently, only rock,  but he took the initiative to contact their other location in Eatonville, which had exactly what we needed!

The manager got me set up to meet with the Eatonville quarry the day before the trip, where I met with that manager and worked out the logistics (including making sure I didn't get arrested the next day)!

The FT was a huge success! There we found an ENORMOUS  sand pile to safely test out Self-Arrest (and just like in the 1950 picture we had to pull on the students to create enough downward force to test the arrest). It was remarkably realistic actually.

And as a bonus, plenty of other hilly areas were available for other stations to test out the other skills. Even the owner, Mr. Randles, stopped by to see if we needed anything and to support what we were doing!

 In the end, all students tested out, no injuries, and we had our fill of Margaritas afterwards in Eatonville! I'll call this one a win.

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Dan Lauren
Dan Lauren says:
Fri, Jun 19, 2015 3:12 PM

Can't believe you pulled that off. A reenactment 60 years later!

Chris Williams
Chris Williams says:
Mon, Jun 22, 2015 2:06 PM