Native guides look to assist freshmen put together for winter recreation

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Joshua Nance (left) and Chris Olivier (right), owners of Grand Mountain Guides and Two Pines Supply respectively, walk through the Granby outdoor sports store. The duo teach introductory backcountry courses together through the Granby Recreation Department.
Kyle McCabe/Sky-Hi News

During the summer, exploring Grand County’s mountains can be as easy as hiking a trail in the sun—while some worry about the wildlife in the woods, most people don’t find it terribly intimidating. However, once the snow and chills of winter arrive, outdoor pursuits away from resorts can present greater danger and intimidation.

Exploring the winter wilderness of Grand County’s backcountry requires knowledge and preparation. Joshua Nance, owner of Grand Mountain Guides, and his partner Chris Olivier, owner of Two Pines Supply in Granby, have a passion for the backcountry. Due to permits and personal issues, the duo are not operating trips this winter, but they do teach beginner backcountry courses through the Granby Recreation Department.

“We want to encourage people to go outside,” Olivier said. “That was always our goal with (Grand Mountain Guides). If we can help by guiding or training them, our goal is always just to get people to get out there and be more comfortable in the backcountry.”

Nance and Olivier encourage methodical preparation for trips into the back country. They distribute checklists and planning guides in their classes so attendees can be sure they have all the information and equipment they need.

“If you take this very methodical, very thoughtful, checklist-driven system, it should not only give you confidence that you’ve checked everything off your list, (but) that you’ve done everything, you’ve got everything, and so on you have.” the best information to go there and have a good time and stay safe,” Nance said.

Information and equipment form the basis of the couple’s backcountry lessons. The courses they teach focus on these two areas, with one called Intro to Backcountry Conditions and the other called Intro to Backcountry Gear.

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Nance said “beginner” would be the perfect word to describe the conditioning class as it’s designed for people who want to get outside in the winter but feel intimidated. He said the course covers how to plan a trip “from A to Z” in the backcountry.

The duo deals with the topic of avalanche areas in class. Nance said avalanches make people nervous because they’re not sure when they’re in avalanche territory or not, and there are backcountry locations that aren’t avalanche prone.

“You can go into Rocky Mountain National (Park) and hike up and down the Kawuneeche Valley and you’re not in an avalanche area at all,” Nance said.

While the course explains how to determine the correct routes through the avalanche area, Olivier pointed out that this is not a substitute for an avalanche course where people learn things like digging others out of the snow.

The Grand County Library District is hosting an avalanche introductory course hosted by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center on December 9 at the Fraser Valley Library. The 3:00pm event requires registration on GCLD.org and will feature special guests: the Winter Park Ski Patrol Dog Team.

As for the gear, Olivier said it falls into two general categories: basic gear that helps people get into the backcountry, and fancy gear that keeps them extra secure. For some basic things like snowshoes or skis, Nance pointed out, people need to bring tools and equipment to make repairs.

“It’s critical if you break a bond when you’re 4, 5, 6 miles in you have to be able to carry that gear to fix that so you can get out,” Nance said. “It’s not like the resort where you can just walk down.”

Some of the more outlandish pieces of gear include transceivers, often called beacons, which help explorers find each other when trapped in an avalanche, and airbag backpacks, which keep people above the snow if caught in an avalanche.

Nance said the gear class also covers how to dress for the backcountry in terms of how many and what types of layers to wear. They also talk about what kind of first aid kit you should bring, but they don’t go into how to use it. Olivier said he keeps repair tools, first aid and emergency kits in a dedicated bag that he can carry from backpack to backpack.

“I have a blue bag,” said Olivier. “…This is the only bag I have in that color, and we’re kind of going through that…and encouraging people to do the same.”

While checklists and proper preparation can help a beginner go backcountry, Nance and Olivier said going with a guide or friend with backcountry experience helps beginners have a more enjoyable adventure.

This year’s courses mark the third time Nance and Olivier have partnered with Granby Recreation. They emphasized that the courses are suitable for all ages and said they have had children and grandparents take the course. The Gear Class will be held on December 15 from 6:30pm to 7:30pm and the Condition Class will be held on December 16 from 6:30pm to 8:30pm, both at the Granby Community Building. Pre-registration is required by December 7th and costs $10 per person.

Nance and Olivier will also be leading free moonlit snowshoe hikes through Granby Recreation this year. The first monthly event will take place on Thursday, December 8th from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Participants meet at Two Pines Supply at 150 E. Agate Ave. where equipment can be provided.