Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Ringer

Well, it's not quite like going through the ringer, but some folks might say that going through your training and examinations to becoming a certified guide is a tough (both physically and mentally) endeavor. Right now I am in the middle of teaching the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) Ski Mountaineering Guides Course based near Whistler, British Columbia. This program entails candidates learning and showing proficiency in various ski guiding techniques, including, but not limited to, snowpack assessment, crevasse rescue, skinning, short roping, downhill get the point, a wide variety of backcountry skiing skills. It takes years of personal experience and prerequisite course work such as avalanche training and wilderness first aid, to even get accepted to the program.

I have gone through the ringer. I have done all of my trainings and became certified in Alpine, Rock and Ski guiding, and it took me quite a few years to do so. On average, it takes most candidates tens of thousands of dollars to put them selves through the program and about 3 to 5 years to complete the entire certification process. In the end, it kind of adds up to a PhD in mountain travel. So if you ever wonder why you should hire a certified guide, it is because someone has put them through the ringer and checked to see if they have what it takes to travel with people safely in the mountains.

We have just finished the first few days of the program, and it was greeted by about 80cm of fresh snow in the Whistler region. Wet and wild to say the least. The first two days were in heavy snow and concentrated on technical skills, and not so much skiing and touring.

Day 1's first objective was avalanche beacon tests to see if candidates could find and extract 3 avalanche beacons buried about a meter deep in under 7 minutes. The second test was the construction of rescue sleds and subsequent lowering of a victim down a few sections of steep slopes.

Day 2 focused on crevasse rescue techniques.

Day 3 (today) was about getting out and touring and some rope work on steep technical ascents as well as guiding a few technical descents.

Here are some shots...I have to go to sleep to wake up and do it all again tomorrow! Everyday we meet at 7 am and our end of the day meetings have been finishing at 7pm...and then the students have to go do their homework assignments!

Find that beacon! Probing for a buried target.

Pete Keane bringing us up through rock steps on Blackcomb Peak

Rob Hess tells us how to guide between bites of PB & J on the summit of Blackcomb

Candidates lead us up through some glaciated alpine terrain on Decker Mt.

Ski descent of the 9th Hole on Decker. Can you say 40 degree blower pow?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Deep powder week

Well, it has been the driest winter in about 20 years, so 'they' say. Despite that, every single group that has been here this season (VMT) has skied untracked powder, I am not making that up. Sometimes it was settled out, and at the end of the day a bit moist, but there was always a place for every guest to get some untracked. 2 weeks ago was the deluge that my soul needed. 80cms in 6 days, and 4 of those days were the standard, ultra-light, champagne, make UT snow look heavy kind of days. Here is a link to a video from the group that came in that week.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Helmet Cam

Ok, finally got a helmet cam, but now my computer is too slow to deal with some HD know what will be next then!

But for now here is a rough little vid to get you psyched on skiing powder again. We had a strong cold front blow through on Sunday night into Monday, and it dropped 30 to 40cms of good old fashioned Kootenay Cold Smoke.


Thursday, March 4, 2010

Behind the Scenes: Outdoor Research

This past week a group of athletes, desingers, product developers and marketing folks from Outdoor Research came up to Valhalla Mountain Touring to try and help push Outdoor Research even further to the forefront of making some great gear. The idea behind the week was to get out during the day ski touring, putting some gear to the grindstone, and then talk about the progression and development of everything at night. In my mind it was an incredible week of getting all of the different people to work together and to see and hear what everyone has to say about the products from the snowpits to the factory floor.

The week was a mix of sunny high pressure, light amounts of new snow, and some touchy days of avalanche activity. Overall, a mix of cold and dry, warm and wet, and a few temperature ranges in between. What could be better for testing gear out? Everyday we all swapped, gloves, pants, coats, etc...and then brainstormed and fine tuned what we put to the test.

But don't be fooled we had a ton of great powder skiing, a few summits, amazing food cooked by Annie, great tunes played by Alex K (VP of marketing) and Jasmin on the uke and guitar, and tons of pics and video to document the whole week.

I gotta say, there is some great gear and some really cool projects coming down the pipes right now from Outdoor Research. Two items of note are the Trailbreakers pants and the Radiant Hybrid Hooded top. The TrailBreakers use a waterproof laminate on the lower legs, and a woven soft shell on the thighs, with huge thigh vents and great pockets - obviously these were made by Uber ski touring/IFMGA mountain guide Martin Volken! The Radiant Hoody is the ultimate cold weather fleece. Highly breathable grid fleece under the arms, and smoother, warmer fleece on the rest, it is a great piece for alpine and ice climbing with its integrated hood that easily fits under your helmet.

During the week, myself and fellow IFMGA mountain guide Martin Volken filmed a few 'How To' videos on common backcountry skills, and we got some great skiing footage to get you stoked. Not to mention some of the new and improved product ideas! It was an amazing experience for me, and a testament to OR's commitment to work with people like you in the field and make some great gear to facilitate some even better times in the hills. Enjoy the photos from OR employee Charles Lozner!

"Hey, nice coat!" "You too!"

"This is how the Swiss eat appetizers. Try it." Martin Volken

Product Development Meetings post skiing

Shannon Lake

Dan, the boss, shows us how to alpine slackline in ski boots!

Yours truly checks out alpine snow stability

Sweet powder bliss in Grizzly Bowl

Classic Valhalla Skiing in Cariboo with Pyramid peak in the background

West coast sales director Dave Mahoney slays some pow

It's a tough job, but someone has to do getting some!