Q & A with COAA Pro Observer Aaron Hartz

Pine Mountain Sports and our customers are fortunate to have an active and growing avalanche center that’s based right here in Bend, Oregon! We’re one of many local businesses and retailers that work to support our Central Oregon Avalanche Center. We work with our friend and COAA Pro Observer Aaron Hartz in a few different ways… In addition to being an active Pro Observer, Aaron is a guide with Timberline Mountain Guides (aka Oregon Ski Guides). Oregon Ski Guides lead our very popular Begin To Skin: BC 101 Guided Outings. Aaron is also an exceptional Ortovox Brand Ambassador, and we’re stoked to have him always representing Ortovox and giving us feedback on the BC gear that we carry.

Recently Aaron did some Q & A with Central Oregon Avalanche Center on exactly what it is that he does for all of us that venture into the Central Oregon backcountry during the winter…


Q & A with Pro Observer Aaron Hartz:

Q: Hometown?
Grew up between Monmouth and Dallas, Oregon in the Willamette Valley.

Q: What is a typical Pro Observer/ski guide day like? 
A: I usually get up early so I can be at my computer by 6am. I check the weather station on Moon Mountain as well as Mt Bachelor for overnight conditions. I also have a couple of other weather models I look at. Following that, I read reports from the COAC website, professional as well as from the community, to get an idea on what is happening in our area. I then put together my own avalanche forecast and trip plan. Next up is the morning meeting with the other guides that will be touring with me. We post our morning meeting notes on InfoX. InfoX is a professional information sharing platform that ski guides, ski areas, and depending on where you live, highway operations use to keep track of what is happening in our region. Next I pack my ski bag and head out to the trailhead with the snowmobiles.

If I’m guiding, I’m not usually performing professional observations for COAC although I’m keeping an eye on conditions, since they can change throughout the day. If I’m on a professional observation tour for COAC I usually make multiple weather observations (wind direction, speed, precipitation, any red flags, etc.), try and find natural avalanche areas, maybe dig a snow pit to see what is happening with the snowpack in my immediate area. When I’m in the pit, I look for suspected weak layers and document what I find so I can post it to the COAC and InfoX websites later that evening.

Once the tour is complete, it’s back to the snowmobiles and parking lot (unless I find some really good snow to ski, in which case I might stay out a little longer!). I’m usually home by 5pm or so. The next task is to write up my notes to share at the end of day meeting and a final post to InfoX/COAC websites to share what I have learned. Some days don’t end until 9pm or so.

Q: How did you get involved in skiing?
 I started skiing when I was 10 years old when my aunt and uncle took my brother and me down to Lassen National Park Ski Area. As a teenager, most weekends were spent at Hoodoo, Mt Hood Ski Bowl, or Mt Bachelor. When I started college, I’d ski at Mt Hood Ski Bowl every weekend. I would crash in my buddy’s dorm room at George Fox University. Night skiing on Tuesday nights was only $5 back in the mid 90s! We would lap the upper bowl over and over again. Mt Hood Ski Bowl has some of the best lift served steep terrain in the NW.

Q: Did you go to college?
 I graduated from Oregon State University in 1998 with a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science. I earned two Master’s degrees, one in Oceanography in 2003 and one in Biology in 2010.

Q: What is your level of avalanche training?
 I have my Level 3, which I completed through the American Avalanche Institute in Jackson, WY. (Level 3 is no longer available; the Level 3 is essentially a Pro 2 these days).

Q: How and why did you get involved in the backcountry skiing industry?
 I have always loved to ski (I’m obsessed with it really!) and just kept pursuing the education and training that I thought was necessary. My first industry job was with Timberline Mountain Guides. I also guide rock climbing at Smith and Mt. Hood summit climbers in the off season. I enjoy teaching people about travelling in the backcountry. Working as a professional guide allows me to use my interest in science to observe and understand snow characteristics and share that knowledge with others.

Q: Do you have a mentor or someone that inspires you?
I didn’t really have one until I went to work for Timberline Mountain Guides and Pete Keane. Pete has been a fantastic mentor and friend. It seems like in the early days, I was the trip leader as none of my close friends pursued the backcountry like I did.

Aaron is easy to spot as he’s usually rocking the brightest shades on the skin track!

Q: Why do you serve as a professional observer and as a board member for COAC?
 I truly enjoy building and creating something that benefits my community. I also enjoying sharing knowledge about the areas I have skied.

Q: How many days of skiing do you get in a year?
Over 100, easy!

Q: What do you do in the off season for fun?
I rock climb, hike, and do some alpine climbing. I also do some rock and Mt Hood guiding, and I run a scientific fieldwork company called Hartz Science Explorations where I perform contract scientific field work for various organizations. The past three summers I spent 6 weeks in Greenland performing geology and climate research. I also do some rope access work, which includes bridge and dam inspections for various agencies.

Q: What are your must have items in your ski pack?
A: Multi tool, bag of items to repair boots, bindings, etc., and a tarp in case I have to overnight in the snow. I also carry a substantial first aid kit. As for food, it’s salami, cheese, chocolate, AND, I never leave the house without some kind of gummy bears/worms!

Bundles of thanks to Ortovox for sponsoring Aaron as a COAC Pro Observer and ski guide as well as keeping him outfitted in equipment and clothing!

Remember, if there is enough snow to ski, there is enough snow to slide! Make sure you have a beacon, probe and shovel with you and know how to use them. Check out our local course providers, Oregon Ski Guides, Three Sisters Backcountry and COCC for upcoming avalanche course dates. Don’t delay as they fill up quickly!