IFMGA Guide Tips: Backcountry Safety

Last week was yet another stellar week of skiing at Valhalla Mountain Touring. Often times I repeated my mantra of why the interior of BC is the best place on planet earth for ski touring: mountains + climate + lack of people = UNBELIEVABLE. I mean really, can you name somewhere else with the terrain and snow quality that we consistently have in the Selkirks? Blows my mind away all the time.

 Wednesday and Thursday some cold high pressure settled in on us, and we took advantage of it by tagging some summits and skiing endless and effortless powder in the cold January sun.

 So now we are settling in to a new week at VMT with some long time locals. I think it is one guests' 10th or 11th time up here. He is 71 from Rossland, BC, retired and can't out ski most of you reading this post. Right on!

But to continue my ramblings...I find my self surfing the web for good sites with ski touring adventure on them. There are a few quality ones like Andrew Mclean, Greg Hill, Lou Dawson, Steve Romeo, Joe Stock, Jason Kruk, my wife and Andrew Wexler. But I am always on the look out for some good climbing/skiing adventure content...any one know of some good blogs I am missing?

  And on another note...I read and see lots of stuff on the web and in magazines about tips and techniques, but not too many from certified guides. Ya, there is great stuff from these people I mentioned before in the ski world, and their experience speaks volumes, but I get a lot of the same questions out there sometimes, [so] I will try and answer some of the common stuff I see come up here!

 The one that came up this week was from a relatively novice backcountry skier who was expressing her fear and intimidation of the backcountry. How to grasp all of that when you can only get out there 10-20 days a year? The obvious is to take an avalanche course, but what are the most important things to take away from a course like that? I came up with 2 really important things to keep close to you for getting out there and coming home safely:

 1. Know how to recognize avalanche terrain. If you aren't in avalanche terrain, then you won't get caught! Use all of your tools, like maps, photos, history, local knowledge, inclometers, tree flagging, etc, and determine with out a doubt that you are in a place that most likely will not be avalanche terrain. Have your tools and your identification techniques and know how to use them. 

  2. Choose the right people to go out with. The human factor is one of the most important parts of staying out of avalanches. Go with someone who will listen to your fears, explain what they think and see (and listen to what you think and see) and who will stick with you no matter what. Even though I often guide groups of 12 in the backcountry, I often recommend people to be in no larger than a group of 4 or 5 in the backcountry with 3 or 4 being ideal. That way no one is left lagging and decisions are easy to make.

Those are my 2 tips for those starting out in the backcountry. If all else fails, take a course, or higher a CERTIFIED guide to take you there! 

Check out more of Evan's adventures as an IFMGA certified guide for Valhalla Mountain Touring at