Are You Mountain Safe?
Guest blogger Liam Peyton, Gibbons’ Festival and Events Manager takes us through his recent Avalanche Safety Training experience.
These mountains are amazing; a vast playground, vaults of unforgettable memories forged with friends in blankets of magical snow. As much as they can give you however, they can take away. Whistler, and the ski community across the world, lose people every year to untimely accidents involving the very matter that gives us so much joy – snow.
The very thing the 16 skiers and snowboarders had sought — fresh, soft snow — instantly became the enemy. Somewhere above, a pristine meadow cracked in the shape of a lightning bolt, slicing a slab nearly 200 feet across and 3 feet deep. Gravity did the rest.
Excerpt taken from the New York Times’ Snow Fall article by John Branch.
I have been in Whistler since 2008 and beginning my 7th season here. I started with Gibbons in April 2009 as a Longhorn host, moved quickly to the bar, through management and into my current Festival & Events Manager role. My entire time here I have been blessed with memories of epic pow days, blinding face shots, whooping and hollering through the endless runs that Whistler and Blackcomb have to offer.
Occasionally I ventured onto what lies past the boundaries, because as vast as the terrain is in bounds there’s always that temptation to explore further.
I went ski touring for the first time a few years back. I owned the required equipment – a beacon, shovel and probe, but if I’m honest I never really knew how it all worked. I’d heard about the Avalanche Safety Training (AST) course, but that’s for the diehard skiers isn’t it? I assumed the same ideology that the regular skier would make with regards to avalanche safety – that I’d be ok, I wasn’t exploring far enough out of bounds to pose a real danger to myself.
As for the gear, surely you turn the beacon on and follow it – simple, right? My first tour I went to the backside of Flute and up and over Oboe, off the back of Whistler’s Symphony area. It was unreal, wide open slopes, rollers, wind lips, glades, pillows, leading to a 12km single track out, called Singing Pass Trail, which terminates at the bus loop. I didn’t see what could be so difficult to understand, it didn’t seem that dangerous. How ignorant I was of Mother Nature’s power.
This past weekend, seven seasons deep, and three since I have had touring equipment, I got around to registering for my AST Level One. Why had I left it so long? I took the course with Kelsey Guerard, Matt Milson and Fiona Pascall of the Longhorn Saloon, our first classroom session was Friday evening, followed by two days in the mountains, touring out of bounds, digging snowpack pits, analyzing the snowpack and layers, understanding triggers of avalanches, correct use of a beacon, transceiver and probe.
I actually found out my dual antenna transceiver I’ve owned since 2008 and never really used is now obsolete.
They aren’t cheap – but obviously priceless if you’re ever unfortunate enough to ever use one. I couldn’t help but feel ignorant for having not done this sooner, what if one of my companions had been buried on one of our trips? I wouldn’t have had a clue what to do.
Our homework was to read an interactive New York Times article called “Snow Fall” and I urge you all to do the same, to understand the importance of knowing the mountains and snow. Even the most experienced of people can be unfortunate, and mostly as a victim to their own complacency and confidence.
I am so glad to have finally got this out of the way and it is great to have matched my mountain experience from the past few years and the questions I have had, to answers from experts and people that have been in the backcountry their whole lives and train people like me and you how to enjoy a lifetime of amazing backcountry exploration and happiness, with the knowledge to keep safe and make the right decisions.
90% of backcountry accidents are caused by human error…
I strongly suggest, from someone that should have done this seven seasons ago, to sign-up to an AST1 course. I went with Whistler Alpine Guides (now Mountain Skills Academy and Adventures) – you can find the course info here.
- Discover and understand avalanche phenomenon
- Learn the principles of safe travel in avalanche terrain
- Acquire companion rescue skills (industry phrase for avalanche rescue skills)
- Learn all about additional backcountry hazards and how to mitigate them
- Consolidate skills through additional training and practice
Supporting Avalanche Safety
On December 18 the Gibbons and Longhorn teams are proud to be hosting an event to raise money for the Canadian Avalanche Society called “Brewllr” – a celebration of snow and beer.