by EVAN MATTHEWS
January 31, 2016 will mark one year since the death of Jade Davis’ good friend, who despite having years of backcountry snowmobiling experience, died in an avalanche.
After his friend’s death, Davis — who has been snowmobiling since childhood, and has been riding in the backcountry for the last 10 years — started going to free avalanche education classes held in his hometown of Couer d’Alene, Idaho, as well as searching for free, online education.
Which is how he came across Backcountry Ascender.
“Allan’s death is just proof that accidents can happen to anybody,” says Davis. “You can never have enough education when it comes to avalanches.”
He came across Backcountry Ascender about a month and a half ago, and says he really enjoyed it.
Launched in September, Backcountry Ascender is a 2-Dimensional computer video game, according to one of its founders, Chris Mayer, and is described as a free and simple backcountry and avalanche educator.
A trivia-style game, Mayer says participants go through the levels by experiencing general knowledge questions with increasing difficulty and specificity as the game goes along.
“It’s so they don’t put themselves, their friends and their riding partners, rescue people nor the industry at risk,” says Mayer.
Knowing there is a growing gap in backcountry and avalanche knowledge over the last couple years — machines getting more powerful, or people unaccustomed to backcountry activity plan vacations — Mayer says it’s causing a higher number of accidents and potentially putting the industry at risk.
“It’s going to become legislated and have a bunch of rules put in place if the gap continues to grow,” says Mayer. “It’s just not good for businesses that rely on the industry.”
Mayer says he met Valemount local, Damon Torgerson, in 1991 when they were in university. The two formed a consulting company, and they work more specifically with K-12 school districts and local governments, Mayer says.
Having developed software for various types of educating and because they both spend a lot of time doing backcountry activities, Mayer says the two of them developed the idea for Backcountry Ascender and put together a demo.
They managed to get a meeting in front of the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (ISMA), Mayer says.
“I laid out the whole concept to them: something needs to change here for the health of the industry, here’s what’s going to happen if you don’t and here’s what I can do,” he says.
After a week, ISMA came back and told Mayer they loved the idea.
ISMA is important, Mayer says, because it got all the key stakeholders together including Avalanche Canada and the American Avalanche Association, organizations he hopes will continue to shape the games content in the future.
“Content in the future will be community driven,” says Mayer.
When users answer a question, Mayer says the answer is submitted to the game, until such a time that they’re reviewed and replied to by another human, which he says makes the game far more interactive and increases software learnability.
Users will play a role in future content, Mayer says, but more so he hopes industry leaders such as Avalanche Canada and the American Avalanche Association stay involved in steering the product’s content in the right direction.
“I’m excited to get out and practice my skills,” says Davis.
“Everyone is ready to get out and show each other what we’ve learned. It’s a really fun tool.”
You can find the game here: https://backcountryascender.com.