Avalanche Awareness

The areas that we ski and patrol at are some of the most spectacular in Canada.  That also means we ski in avalanche terrain every day.  Yes, even those of us that ski at Canada Olympic Park (COP) – there are slopes greater than 25°!  Nordic patrollers are not exempt either – consider the Elk Pass trail segment just south of the Hydroline junction.

The avalanche risk we face every day (risk = exposure to hazard) is minimal as the avalanche hazard is controlled.  But, did you ever consider what you would do if confronted by an avalanche incident?  These events are rare, but one never knows!

Let’s digress for a moment – What is the role of CSP patrollers while on duty?  In four words – Education, Avalanche Control & Rescue.  While not every one of these three tasks will apply to every hill, let’s explore what our roles are / could be / should be:

  • Education – educating the public as to current conditions i.e. what the hazard is, what is open or closed; educating “poachers”.
  • Avalanche Control – the CSP does not do avalanche control, but we do assist the areas control efforts. This may be as simply as blocking off areas while control work is in progress and letting the public know what is going on.
  • Rescue – patrollers are competent members of the rescue team.  At several areas, it is encouraged and sometimes mandatory to carry avalanche gear so it’s imperative to know how to use it?

The best way to be prepared and confident in our abilities on the slopes is to take an avalanche course. The Calgary Zone is fortunate to have several CSP Avalanche Instructors who have planned several courses that will be offered throughout the season, they include: (see Calendar for dates and locations)

  • Companion Rescue Skills (CRS)
  • Avalanche Skills Training (AST) 1 & 2

What is the Companion Rescue Skills (CRS) course all about?  As described on the Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC) website http://www.avalanche.ca/cac/training/ast/crs

The Companion Rescue Skills course can be used as the first stepping stone to avalanche training and can also be used as a refresher for those who have previous training in either AST 1 or AST 2 or other avalanche training.

At the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • Consider and incorporate preventative measures
  • Prioritize actions if caught in an avalanche
  • Understand the function of airbags
  • Understand transceiver functions and practice transceiver skills
  • Apply search and rescue techniques
  • Practice searching without a transceiver
  • Consider multiple burial situations
  • Organize a group rescue

Avalanche Skills Training (AST) 1, http://www.avalanche.ca/cac/training/ast/ast-1 , is the first step in your avalanche education: the two day course is approximately 50% classroom and 50% field work.  This course provides an entry-level decision-making framework by covering the following topics:

  • Formation of avalanches and the factors that cause them to slide
  • Identify avalanche terrain
  • Steps required to plan and carry out a trip
  • Use the decision-making tool, Avaluator™, incorporating ATES terrain ratings with the Avalanche Bulletins and the Avalanche Danger Rating
  • Appropriate avalanche terrain travel techniques
  • Carry out a companion rescue

At the end of the AST 1, you should recognize that your journey is just starting and there is much, much, much more to learn.

Avalanche Skills Training (AST) 2, http://www.avalanche.ca/cac/training/ast/ast-2, is a 4 day course consisting of 25% classroom and 75% field.  Some touring experience is required.  It takes everything you learned in the AST 1 and steps it up a notch:

  • Use the Avaluator™ as a filtering tool the determine when additional planning is required
  • Understand the limitations of a regional Avalanche Danger Rating and how to apply it to the local scale
  • Use of route finding to take advantage of nuances in terrain to manage personal risk
  • Use travel techniques in avalanche terrain appropriate to the avalanche conditions
  • Proficiently carry out a companion rescue
  • Understand that you still do not know it all!

Read also about Canada Olympic Park

 Contacts for the courses:

  • Mt. Norquay – Companion Rescue Skills (CRS) – Kevin Biggs – [email protected]
  • Lake Louise – Companion Rescue Skills (CRS) & Avalanche Skills Training (AST) 1 – Ken Lukawy – [email protected]
  • Avalanche Skills Training (AST) 2 – TBD
  • Any questions regarding anything avalanche can be directed to Ken Lukawy – [email protected]

Visit the CSP Calendar for details on upcoming courses, costs, and locations.