Backcountry Visions with the Founders of White Room Adventures
If you've spent time poking around the Colorado Avalanche Information Center's (CAIC) website, you've probably seen more than a few snowpack observations submitted under the name "K. Rohrig." The truth, however, is that there are two K. Rohrigs to which that moniker belongs, both of whom are just as recognizable to the CAIC's website visitors as they are to anyone in the Vail Valley who ventures into the backcountry.
The tale of two K. Rohrigs -- husband and wife Kreston and Kelli -- began in 2005, when Kelli (a Vail local, and professional skier Chris Anthony's sister) met Kreston (a Greeley-native who had moved to the area to begin ski patrolling for Beaver Creek). One thing led to another, and before long, the two complemented their relationship with a business partnership: White Room Adventures. Founded as an adventure travel company (connecting Americans with local ski guides in the French Alps, where Kreston once worked as a ski patroller), White Room Adventures has evolved into one of the Vail Valley's foremost resources for backcountry safety education.
In addition to offering American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) Level 1 and Level 2 courses -- a program teaching skiers and snowboarders how to travel safely in avalanche terrain that's becoming more and more of a prerequisite for anyone that heads outside resort boundaries -- White Room Adventures has gotten involved with Chris Anthony and Paragon Guides' Glide Project, which teaches AIARE Level 1 courses to the local high school students. Over beers recently at Vail Brewing Company, the Vail Valley's powder couple chatted about their business, keeping up with the demand of locals' burgeoning interest in backcountry education, and their dreams for the Glide Project.
On turning White Room Adventures into a forum for backcountry education:
Kreston: Once we got back from France, I was patrolling up in Big Sky (Montana) and Kelli was coaching the kid’s freeride team in Big Sky, and everyone in the community up there is just much more avalanche savvy. Kelli started introducing avalanche education to the kids up there, and then I helped with that a bit, and then when we moved back we both, I wasn’t patrolling anymore, we started guiding, and then teaching avalanche education full time in the winter.
On their daily schedules, and finding time some down time:
Kelli: Hopefully 4 out of 7 days we’re skiing, but any given week, we’ve got our boots and we’re in the snow doing something pretty much every day.
Kreston: Our favorite thing is just to go backcountry skiing; it’s good for the mind. A lot of times it's just us and our dog – Henry – he’s still crushing and he’s almost 11.
On the changing attitudes toward backcountry education:
Kelli: I think when we left (Vail to go to Big Sky), at the time, having avalanche education had a stigma like, you’re just going to be this total buzzkill. It was almost demeaning like, “Oh, you went to that class?" In the last two years there's been this explosion of people in our area seeking out backcountry courses, though. Maybe it's generational? I think more younger people are going out and getting their Level 1, and then they tell their friends, so it's been kind of spreading that way.
Kreston: (On the professional level) it seems like that kind of mindset shift has really come about, too, where the athletes really aren’t just relying on their ability but they’re seeking out education; they want to be more on the guide level, and contribute to the decision making and understand when things are safe and when they’re not, so I think it’s just the educational process evolving and more people are seeking to get out there, and they're realizing that getting educated isn’t a bad thing – it’s a powerful thing.
On getting high schoolers involved:
Kelli: When we went to Big Sky it was cool; everyone knew what they were doing, and they were into it. I had a 12-year-old that I coached who knew how to do a multi-burial search, and he knew how to do it well. They didn’t know snowpack per se, but they knew what was dangerous, they knew when to stay off things, they just had such a better sense about it because they just grow up in the environment of awareness.
I think that these kids (in Vail) ski better than all of us (“I don’t know, you’re a pretty good skier,” says Kreston), they are incredible skiers, and they can ski just about anything. Kids head outside the gate once, and all they think is, “You go out the gate and it’s fun.”
Some of the kids I’ve worked with in the past, I’d ask if they knew people who had been caught in slides, and it was always these older family members or people who are never going to take a Level 1, so if we could get the kids in a Level 1, how cool would it be if you were at home, and your family was like, “Let’s go ski this place,” and as a 16 year-old you were like, “Jeez, Dad, it’s rated Considerable out there and there are winds out of the Northwest, it’s probably pretty slabby!”
Kreston: The thing is, they’re going to go (beyond the rope), that’s truly the line we’ve crossed. There’s always the other side of the argument -- people tend to think, "Don’t you think you’re encouraging them by educating them and they’re going to learn more and want to go out there?" But, they’re going to do it anyway. The kids are so good at skiing, and they’ve been skiing the mountain all their lives. I think we just need to drive them into being responsible -- the big thing is just the built-in respect for the mountains.
Cripple Creek Backcountry will host a benefit to raise money for local avalanche class scholarships on Tuesday (Feb. 21) from 6:30 - 8 p.m., featuring lectures by avalanche educators like Kelli Rohrig, and beers from Vail Brewing Company.