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I’ve been skiing my entire life, from competing in moguls at a young age, to taking part in two Olympic games as a slopestyle skier. I’m now transitioning into being a backcountry-focused skier and as with any transition, I know that I need to learn new skills and acquire more knowledge, not only for my benefit but also to keep my ski partners safe. When Whitecap Alpine’s early season 4-day AST 2 (Avalanche Skills Training) course came to my attention, I jumped at the opportunity and signed up.


We started our first day at the Pemberton Airport, where we met with our guides and crew. Due to fog in the valley, our flight up to the lodge was delayed by a few hours, but we took that time to dive right into the classroom session. We got into snowpack layering, avalanche problems, avalanche types, avalanche terrain, pre-trip planning, reducing risk and rescue skills. I’m not going to lie, after about 4 hours of doing my best to take in as much new information as possible, I remember thinking to myself “how am I ever going to remember all of this?” The good news was, that as the week progressed and we got into the field, we constantly revisited all of these concepts, saw how they related to real life circumstances and after four days of revising all this new knowledge in the mountain environment, everything I learned in the classroom seemed to stick.


Later that day the skies cleared and we made our way up the valley to McGillivray Pass, where Whitecap’s cozy lodge was waiting for us. Once settled in, our guides set up the projector and we continued with the classroom learning and discussed what the week ahead would look like.


During our first day in the field, we grouped together outside the lodge in a flat snowfield to do a refresher on transceiver search skills. Once everyone had a chance to practice, we made our way to the top of a Whitecap classic, known as ‘Home Run’. On our way up we went over our route plan, which included discussing; ATES, key decision points, safe route options, terrain cautions and travel techniques. The rest of the day was spent skiing different low angle runs and getting to know the surrounding terrain.

On our second day, we started the morning by taking a look at the avalanche forecast and filling out our decision making field book (this helps you to use the avalanche bulletin to carry out the necessary research for the day). Next, we headed up the slope to build a snow profile and take a better look at the current snowpack. We were able to locate the persistent weak layer and test the snow’s reactivity and propagation propensity, which can help predict the avalanche probability in the given area. The afternoon was spent with a little more skiing and conversations about safe route finding, along with a multi burial search exercise back at the lodge. Working through this group exercise really helped us understand how stressful a search situation can become and how important it is to work efficiently as a team.

On our final day we split into two groups and took turns in leading our group through the terrain above the cabin, and then finding a safe line to ski back down. By this time we had received roughly 40cm of snow since the start of our trip. Due to this, the avalanche conditions were ‘high danger’ in the alpine, tree line and below tree line. Throughout the day my group set off two remote avalanches, one while ski touring up a slope (a size 1) and the other while skiing along a ridge line (a size 2.5). For me, this really put into perspective how unpredictable avalanches can be and how you can set them off from a considerable distance (i.e. a remote trigger). It’s one thing to sit in the classroom and discuss avalanche risk and danger, but seeing the power of masses of moving snow in person was a real eye opener and definitely made me take a step back to think about every decision twice.

With backcountry skiing/riding becoming increasingly popular, I highly recommend that anyone looking to further their backcountry knowledge and skills should take courses available through Avalanche Canada or any other accredited organisations.

The learning for me doesn’t stop here, now it’s time to put the skills I have learned to use and find someone I feel confident and comfortable with to mentor me.