Backcountry Archives - Mountain Skills Academy & Adventures


Understanding Human Factors in Avalanche Safety

Fri, 26th Oct 2018  /  By Vince Shuley
human factor avalanche

Why do so many people with avalanche training end up triggering slides more than a few times in their backcountry careers? It's one of the most perplexing conundrums of avalanche safety, one that boils down to psychology rather than skill or knowledge. Avalanche researchers have termed this effect collectively as "human factors." [caption id="attachment_5556" align="alignnone" width="710"] Groups of humans often unknowingly let psychology influence their decisions.[/caption] What exactly are human factors? The human factor can be largely attributed to heuristics — the process of gaining knowledge through intelligent guesswork, using previous experiences. Heuris...

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Understanding Backcountry Food and Nutrition

Sat, 24th Mar 2018  /  By Vince Shuley
backcountry food

Food and water are what keep us alive as human beings. In the backcountry, these nutrients are just as important - arguably more so given the lack of available food in nearby refrigerators and stores. As a general rule of thumb, any time you venture out into a remote place, you should be bringing some sort of food with you. Not just for the comfort of eating when you are hungry, but to sustain your body through the exercise of getting out there and home safely. To make sure you have all the tools to keep your energy levels in tip-top shape, take a look at our guide to backcountry food and nutrition. Water First Humans can survive around three weeks without food, but the...

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The Experiential Benefit of Backcountry Huts and Lodges

Mon, 5th Mar 2018  /  By Vince Shuley
Whistler backcountry huts Rockies

Camping in the winter backcountry takes some motivation. It’s cold, there’s a lot of gear and supplies to carry and there is just a thin sheet of nylon between your sleeping bag and the outside elements. But there’s an alternative to roughing it in the snow in the form of backcountry huts and lodges. Usually positioned around treeline elevation a few hours hike from the trailhead, these structures allow backcountry enthusiasts to carry in food and sleeping gear from their vehicles then ski tour, unhindered, for the rest of their trip. No cold tents and sleepless nights. No long retreat back to civilization. Just wake up, eat your oatmeal and get an express start to...

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A Day in the Life of a Backcountry Ski Guide

Sat, 20th Jan 2018  /  By Vince Shuley
backcountry ski guide Whistler Rockies

The day in the life of a backcountry ski guide might seem like it’s all sunshine and powder turns, but the truth is that it’s a lot more work than that. These men and women rise early, stay late and are always surveying the landscape for potential hazards and safety concerns. It takes quite a few years to achieve accredited guide status with the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) when you add up all the courses, exams, practicums, trips and filling out of log books. Then there’s all the work that goes into a single day trip; hauling heavy packs with everything inside from ropes to a sizable first aid kit, planning routes with multiple alternatives, analy...

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My First Day on Skins: Beginner Ski Touring Experience

Tue, 7th Nov 2017  /  By Vince Shuley
beginner ski touring

No one forgets their first ski touring experience. There's a realization that no, you don't actually need a chair lift to ski powder. There are some things to learn, however. A lot of things actually, too much to learn in a single day. That's probably the reason most people venture out with experienced friends or guides the first time. The following is an account of the author's Day 1 beginner ski touring experience. I'm not really sure what I'm doing here, but it probably has something to do with powder. I'm tired of skiing in people's tracks all the time and I don't mind hiking up a hill to see the view from the top. So I decided to give this ski touring thing a go. ...

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4 Benefits of Boosting Your Mountain Navigation Skills

Thu, 19th Oct 2017  /  By Vince Shuley
4-season tent winter camping

Being guided around the winter backcountry for the first time can be an awe-inspiring experience, whether by an experienced friend, a friend of a friend or a qualified ski guide. There's a sense of accomplishment from being completely self-sufficient in the mountains; carrying all your gear to survive on your back as you climb and descend untouched powder slopes. But when it's time to explore new areas without guidance, getting in and out of the mountains - safely - takes on a whole new meaning. Avalanche education is the first step to making winter backcountry safer. But an Avalanche Skills Training (AST) 1 course is quite condensed and focuses primarily on rescue scenar...

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Sky Pilot: A Hiker’s Mountaineering Trip

Wed, 23rd Aug 2017  /  By Vince Shuley
sky pilot squamish mountaineering Mountain Skills Academy

There comes a time when an experienced hiker will look for the next challenge. That may entail hiking further from civilization, gaining higher summits or tackling more technical routes. But for those who want to take the next step in vertical, the slow and steady transition towards mountaineering doesn't have to necessarily involve high altitude climbing or risky routes. Sky Pilot (2031m), a peak accessed from the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish, is the perfect introduction to "mountaineering lite" in the Vancouver/Sea to Sky region. [caption id="attachment_4478" align="alignnone" width="710"] The best way to by pass an arduous approach and knee-breaking descent[/capti...

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Cornice Hazards: What you need to know

Mon, 24th Apr 2017  /  By Vince Shuley
cornice hazards

One of the recurring themes in British Columbian backcountry advisories this season is cornices. These aesthetic but often hazardous snow structures are formed by wind drifting snow onto the downwind side of an obstacle, such as a ridgeline or precipice. Their size can range from windlips a few feet high to the size of small houses, sometimes even larger. Cornices present a hazard for a few reasons; they can be hard to identify from the top of a ridge, they can be very sensitive to triggers such as an explosive (or even the weight of a skier) and the weight of a collapsing cornice can trigger a sizable avalanche. To help keep your backcountry spidey senses tingling, here'...

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The Weekender’s Guide to the Whistler Backcountry

Mon, 12th Dec 2016  /  By Vince Shuley
Whistler backcountry in 48 hours

When the weekend comes around and the weather looks good, there's no better place to spend your time than in the Whistler backcountry. Escaping the crowds and noise of the ski resort - if only for a few hours - gives the classic ski weekend a whole new meaning. You can spend the day ski touring in peaceful tranquility, then spend the evening celebrating the nightlife and resting in comfortable accommodations. To make sure you get the most out of your 48 hours in Whistler, here's our weekender's guide to the Whistler Backcountry. Note: Before embarking on your weekend in the backcountry, make sure to check the Avalanche Bulletin for the Sea to Sky Region and the Whistler...

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Spearhead Huts: 5 Reasons We Love the Project

Sat, 22nd Oct 2016  /  By Vince Shuley
Spearhead Huts ski touring

If you're a frequent visitor to the Whistler backcountry, or any backcountry skiing area in British Columbia for that matter, you've probably heard about the Spearhead Huts Project. For those not familiar, the Spearhead Traverse is a horseshoe-shaped 35km route over 13 glaciers in Garibaldi Provincial Park adjacent to Whistler Blackcomb. The only structure that currently exists on the traverse is the Himmelsbach Hut on the edge of Russet Lake, built in the '60s and in dire need of replacement. The Spearhead Huts Project (which has its annual Soiree fundraiser on November 22 in North Vancouver) not only aims to build a new backcountry hut at the Russet Lake site, but wi...

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Top 5 Ski Traverses Around Whistler

Tue, 29th Mar 2016  /  By Vince Shuley
ski traverses around Whistler

With some long spring days ahead in April and May it's prime time for longer ski traverses. For those not familiar, a ski traverse is when a group travels from one destination to another through mountains on skis. A traverse can be done quickly in a day or take several days or even weeks with the associated winter camping equipment and food supplies. While the main goal is to travel from point A to point B, pursuing vertical objectives is still very much possible depending on the party, snow conditions and time allowed. Think you're ready for the next level backcountry experience? Grab a copy of Exploring the Coast Mountains on Skis by John Baldwin (available in Whistle...


Skiing the Duffey – Mt. Melvin in a day

Fri, 4th Mar 2016  /  By Vince Shuley
skiing the duffey

Scratching the exploratory itch is what drives a lot of backcountry travelers. Some of the most memorable adventures begin by pouring over topographical maps and Google Earth imagery on the kitchen table. And while skiing the Duffey Lake Road north of Pemberton was pioneered by grizzled mountain men decades ago, the personal emotion felt when summiting a new peak and then descending its prominent line never gets old. [caption id="attachment_2942" align="alignnone" width="710"] Approaching through the treeline meadows in a distinctively thinner snow pack than Whistler or other parts of the Duffey[/caption] Deep into the Duffey Downton Creek is an area that lies one st...

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4 Reasons for Ski Touring Rogers Pass

Sun, 28th Feb 2016  /  By Vince Shuley
ski touring Rogers Pass

Anyone who has spent time in British Columbia's winter backcountry has no doubt heard of the ski touring in Rogers Pass. The infamous mountain road that links the Trans Canada Highway between Revelstoke and Golden is the most avalanche-prone area in the country. That can mean frequent road closures during storms while government avalanche control workers fire howitzers from the road side and drop explosives in the alpine. But when the avalanche danger subsides, ski touring in Rogers Pass is some of the best in the world. Here's four reasons why.   [caption id="attachment_2934" align="alignnone" width="710"] Grandness of the Rockies with snowfall of the Coast. B...

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Spearhead Traverse – Whistler’s backcountry rite of passage

Thu, 18th Feb 2016  /  By Vince Shuley
Spearhead Traverse Whistler

In the world's most popular ski destinations there's a classic, multi-day backcountry trip considered a rite of passage by the local ski touring community. In the Alps it's the Haute Route from Chamonix, France to Zermatt, Switzerland. In the Canadian Rockies it's the hut-to-hut journey through the Wapta Icefields. In Whistler, it's the Spearhead Traverse. While it may be one of the most well-travelled backcountry areas in North America, only a small percentage of touring travellers actually head out with the goal of completing the entire Spearhead Traverse. Starting from the glacier boundary gate on Blackcomb Mountain, the route encompasses 13 glaciers (all over 2,000...

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4 tips for ski touring with dogs

Mon, 15th Feb 2016  /  By Vince Shuley
ski touring with dogs

For dog lovers in the mountains, one of the most rewarding experiences is bringing your pooch along for the ride. People take their dogs on hikes, bike rides, ski tours and even out on the lake with their canoes and stand up paddleboards. Being that we're in mid-winter right now, backcountry outings usually involve travelling over snow. With that in mind, we've rounded up four tips on ski touring with dogs on your next adventure. 1. Invest time in training One of the biggest dangers of skiing with your dog are the very sharp edges on skis and snowboards. When descending, your dog needs to obey the sit command and await your command to follow. Start by rehearsing on dryl...

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Ski Mountaineering at Jim Haberl Hut, Tantalus Range

Tue, 2nd Feb 2016  /  By Vince Shuley
Jim Haberl Hut Tantalus

Once every season or two, backcountry skiers and snowboarders develop an appetite for a special kind of trip. It may involve travelling half way across the world or simply finding a yet to be discovered corner of our own backyard, but more often than not it involves spending a few nights at a secluded location. One of our favourite such locations is the Jim Haberl Hut, a comfortable backcountry refuge nestled in the heart of the Tantalus Range. A quick helicopter flight from Squamish Airport, Jim Haberl Hut was built 10 years ago in memory of climber Jim Haberl, one of the two Canadians to first summit K2. Haberl died while attempting Alaska's Ultima Thule in 1999. Th...

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4 Reasons to Ski on Christmas Day

Thu, 24th Dec 2015  /  By Vince Shuley
Santa ski on Christmas

The holidays can be a crazy time of year, so why not ski on Christmas? Whistler Village is flooded with last-minute gift shoppers and holiday-makers frantically working through their family dinner shopping lists, all seemingly trying to compete for the same parking space. Christmas in Whistler is not for the introvert, not unless you were smart enough to stock up on presents, food and alcohol weeks ago. But it's also a great time to go skiing or snowboarding. So if you've finished your To-Do lists or just stopped giving a crap about material exchanges, head up the lifts of Whistler Blackcomb and escape the Christmas madness in the valley. Better yet, hit the backcountry ...

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Backcountry Skiing Freeride Tours on Decker Mountain

Sat, 12th Dec 2015  /  By Vince Shuley
Backcountry Skiing Whistler

Photos by Vince Shuley It's been snowing hard all week here in Whistler with 150cm falling in the last seven days. Freezing levels are settling down with more of the white stuff on the way this week. Hopefully you got a chance to make it up here, but if you missed this storm, fret not. When the resort turns to moguls and hardpack groomers, powder can be found in the world class Whistler backcountry. Commonly labelled “slackcountry” or “side-country,” backcountry skiing areas adjacent to resort boundaries areas have little or no avalanche control and therefore require skills, equipment and guidance to ski them safely. That means taking an avalanche course an...

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AST 1 Avalanche Course (FAQs)

Wed, 25th Nov 2015  /  By Vince Shuley
Powder Skiing Rogers Pass

The motivation to travel beyond the ski resort boundary rope has never been bigger. Ski and snowboard touring equipment is lighter, stronger and stiffer than ever before. Tracks fill out resorts on powder days in less time than it takes to cook pasta. People are yearning for fresh terrain, fresh tracks and fresh experiences. The prerequisite? Getting educated with an avalanche course. To help bring you up to speed on this essential piece of mountain education, we've answered some Frequently Asked Questions. Where do I Start? If you're an advanced freerider looking to shred backcountry lines and haven't taken an avalanche course yet, the Avalanche Skills Training Level 1...

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AST1 & Backcountry Skiing Discounts

Wed, 25th Nov 2015  /  By eric dumerac
AST 1 Field Day Canadian Rockies

Welcome winter, 2015/2016 We've well and truly said goodbye to summer here at Mountain Skills Academy & Adventures, and we couldn't be more excited to welcome in the winter. It's time to dust off the skis and touring gear, for another season of winter adventures! Over the last few weeks we have been busy putting together our course outlines and dates for Avalanche Skills Training (in Whistler/Squamish, and Banff/Canmore), Ski Mountaineering & Ice Climbing across Canada. Whether you are based in the Whistler/Squamish area, or in Banff/Canmore, there are many ways you can make sure you tick off some of those winter 'bucket list' objectives you've been plannin...

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