After wanting to take the Canadian Avalanche Association's level 1 operations course for 12+ years, I finally took it. It's a week long course, and really good opportunity to learn from some amazing instructors. I wanted to get my knowledge a little more formalized (and did) which was sweet.
The course was being held at my old home mountain of Lake Louise. The rockies have typically a thin, kind of sketchy snowpack, so it's a great place to go dig pits. And this year was no exception as there's claims of 40-50 year sketchy snowpack! but to find out more I had to first get to lake louise..
Generally it's a 9 hour drive from my house in squamish to the Lake. However, when i was just outside of Revelstoke they shut the highway (due to avalanches) 5 minutes prior to me being there. So from where i was I had 2 options, north or south and neither were (or are ever) a good option. So I had to backtrack two hours to Kamloops, then drive north to Jasper, then south on the icefields parkway, slept in my car for 3 hours, woke up and drove the last 2 hours to Louise. My 9 Hour drive turned into a 20 hour mission. but I made it there only 30 minutes late. Which for unintentionally touring around BC is pretty good.
a few hours of rallying on the icefields parkway
Our first day we toured out from lake louise ski area. Which was getting hammered. It was torture to hear the hoots from the people riding while we dug pits and did our beacon rescue exams. Thankfully my group finished early and I was able to sneak off and roll some laps.
Something I noticed from our beacon exams. If you ever plan on going in the backcountry, in addition to learning how to use your beacon and probe correctly, really take the time to learn how to dig efficiently and quickly. I was kinda blown away by some people who couldn't really dig. Time is of the essence in a rescue scenario, and you should be quick at everything. And somehow some people can't dig, don't be one of them.
But back to the sketchyness, of the snowpack. The Alberta rockies currently have a giant layer of perfect surface hoar that's buried down about 60+cm. Surface hoar generally acts like ball bearings in a snowpack and produces some great avalanches. However it's not really good to tour around when it's like that. So we did a lot of sideways touring during the week and dug lots of pits. And all of our pits said "keep walking sideways" because up/down was not a great option for avoiding avalanches.
Generally our days involved waking up at 630am to take the morning weather observations, a few hours in the classroom, go for a mellow tour somewhere, dig in the snow for a few hours, then ride down or tour out. Afterwards it was back to town for the afternoon weather observations prior a few more hours of class. Pretty close to 12 hour days everyday of the course. The you had your studying and homework to do at night as well. It all makes for a pretty busy week but it was all good.
aftermath of some testing..
One of the realy cool things we got to do during the week was watch the banff national park's avalanche crew go to work on some mountains above the trans canada highway. They dropped some mega explosives from the helicopter up on the ridge tops and pulled down the 2 biggest avalanches (class 3) that I've ever seen live in my life. It was really asight to behold, and a good reminder to never get caught in something like that!
second one airing
woh! we did end up making it up to the alpine. however we walked up a very, very mellow slope to get there. I think I did 3 turns over 2 kilometers going downhill.
me above bow lake
a glimpse at the future, my new arcteryx quintec pack (awesome!) and k2 speedlink splitboard poles (also awesome).
our instructor pointing at something.
one of the instructors checking out my pit on exam day. I ended up doing pretty well overall and passing the course
exam day. pits in a meadow. You don't need a slope to test the snow. and it's a lot safer this way.
The alberta rockies are still getting snow and it's looking like the weak layers are there to party until spring time. So expect to see some more big avalanches in that area and here are the 2 chief culprits..
big surface hoar!
these are a treat as well, depth hoar
Big thanks to our awesome instructors and congrats to my whole class for passing.
an even bigger thanks to Ullr for rewarding my patience all week and hammering whistler blackcomb the night i was driving home. felt so good to finally ride all day in deep powder after digging in it all week.
Play safe out there.