Guest Blogger: Jennifer Godbout
As winter kicks into high gear the pursuit of powder seems to be on everybody’s radar and in Whistler that means more and more people are heading into the backcountry, some of them for the first time.
The trend to go beyond the rope is not new. As our world gets continually busier and more hectic, more and more people seem to be seeking a reconnection to nature and a life with more adventure and more time outdoors. Really we all just want to live a good story and the idea of going further and deeper into the mountains in pursuit of perfect powder is not just for the hardcore ski-touring crowd anymore.
However, with less expensive, high quality backcountry gear more readily available (and more heavily marketed), it’s especially important that the increase in backcountry users is paired with an increase in proper training and knowledge.
Anyone purchasing a pair of touring skis or splitboard for the first time this holiday season should also get the essential safety gear – a transceiver, probe and shovel – and sign up for an Avalanche Skills Training course (AST Level 1) from an accredited provider (see below). New technology like airbag backpacks are helpful but they can also provide a false sense of security and are no substitute for the proper rescue equipment, knowledge and the invaluable experience that comes from learning the basics and building from there.(Note: the Canadian Avalanche Association has issued a warning about “avalanche transciever” smartphone apps. They are not a suitable replacement for a proper transceiver. Download the CAA press release).
The AST 1 is an entry level course that has both classroom and field components. It’s an invaluable first step towards backcountry safety and it’s fun to be out in the mountains learning and practicing new skills that could save your life or the life of a friend.
5 Things You’ll Learn in an AST 1 Course
- The basic science of avalanche formation and release.
- How to recognize and avoid avalanche hazards and dangerous terrain.
- How to effectively rescue a member of the group if they were caught in an avalanche
- The steps needed to plan, and pull off, a safe backcountry trip.
- Understanding the limits of your training.
“Being in the mountains is a constant learning process,” says Tyler Petruisic, a local guide certified with the world-recognized Association of Canadian Mountain Guides. “It’s a humbling experience becoming a certified guide and avalanche instructor, all the courses over the years I’ve really learned just how much there is to know. I’ll never stop learning.”
If you’re hearing the call of the wild for the first time but maybe not ready to commit to the costs and time of setting yourself up with the necessary backcountry gear and knowledge, Whistler offers many guided backcountry options. From self-propelled trips beyond the ski hills to full cat-skiing or heli-skiing dream days there are plenty of ways to taste the freedom of the hills under the supervision of trained professionals.
The Whistler backcountry is magical and an incredible place to spend time. As life around us speeds up, the appeal of solitude and silence becomes that much greater. Don’t be fooled by the beauty however, you need to know what you’re doing out there. As Tyler Petruisic says, “Follow your passions into the mountains, but make sure you come home to tell your stories.”
Whistler offers a host of different ways to enjoy the backcountry via snowmobile tour, heli-skiing or cat-skiing, or take a guided backcountry tour. Anyone interested in local level 1 Avalanche Skills Training courses can get more info from:
- Extremely Canadian. Longtime local adventure company offering guided on-mountain or backcountry tours as well as Avalanche course.
- Avalanche Courses Whistler. Learn the basics from the author of this article! Jen has been guiding in the BC backcountry for 10 years.
- Pacific Alpine Institute started in the 1980s by a Blackcomb ski patroller the Pacific Alpine Institute literally has decades of homegrown knowledge and experience behind them.
- Whistler Alpine Guides have also been teaching and guiding in Whistler for decades and offer weekly courses throughout the winter.
- Coast Mountain Guides A family-run guiding operation that also offers weekly AST Level 1 courses.
The Canadian Avalanche Centre is a great national resource with up-to-date avalanche bulletins and another great source of information is local ski patroller Wayne Flann’s Avalanche blog.
Local ski patroller/blogger Wayne Flann enjoying the Whistler Backcountry