Introduction to Backcountry Skiing

In Uncategorized by Explorington2 Comments

January, a time of new beginnings and resolutions. Keeping with the annual tradition, I started something new, I joined the Alpine Club of Canada Vancouver Island Section. Rather, that is, I rejoined. A few years ago, I was a member for a season. This past weekend I joined 50+ members from the club for the Annual General Meeting.  This year the meeting and event weekend was held at the Vancouver Island Mountain Centre at Mt. Washington.

The meeting was bookended within a weekend of events for members, including courses and outings. I chose to learn a new skill — as though I don’t have enough hobbies– I joined an Introduction to Backcountry Skiing.

The conditions for the weekend were not promising.  Friday night, the temperatures were below freezing and only a few millimeters of snow fell. Saturday while we were in the class, conditions were partly sunny with no precipitation. Sunday would see varied conditions, rain, sleet and eventually heavy snow.

 See our route

I arrived 8 PM Friday evening.  I had a great time chatting and playing Settlers of Catan with John and Frances Proc. It was great spending time with them, last year we hiked a lot but work forced them to move to the Saanich Peninsula.We registered for the course together.

Saturday found us learning theory in the classroom,  consisting of: gear: packing, route planning, avalanche beacons, and basic compass use.  I enjoyed the opportunity to use the compass and map for route planning, the instruction was very thorough. One of the primary components of using the map and compass was predicting the slope of the terrain to make decisions on route placement, to avoid avalanche exposure. .

As I expected, the information regarding the technical aspects of the gear is dense. I wouldn’t say I was totally overwhelmed, the leader was very organized with his material and able to answer all questions from the participants. There is, however, a ridiculous amount of information and options available for the equipment.

The class took most of the day, 9AM until 4:15 PM, with a short lunch break. After the inclass theory, we went outdoors to practice some skills, kick-turns and beacon hunting.  I live with Morton’s Foot Structure and my right foot turns out at least 20 degrees, it usually causes me considerable problems in any activity that demands parallel feet. Fortunately, I don’t think it is much of an issue yet. The turns were easy enough to do, though the kick-out portion trips me up now and then.

When it came time for beacon practice, my avalanche beacon gave me trouble. I participated alongside others but didn’t have the full hands on experience. I was able to see how the search technique is accomplished and have a basic understanding of the procedure. I can’t wait to try it a few more times.

By the time we completed the skills practice the potluck diner was well underway. We scooted inside, filled some plates and I took time to chat with several members of the club. A few of the members recognized my name from the this blog, when I pulled up a few photographs from the summer they recognized a few key images! I guess the blog makes an impression on some.

The AGM ran late into the evening, past 10 PM. The club business was varied and although it went long each of the areas was well presented and discussed; I wish my staff meetings moved as quick. A highlight for me was listening to Lindsay Elms present photographs on his trip to the Haihte Range at the end of June 2014. As readers of my blog know, I made a trip there myself in early August. His route was much different than my own, I had a base camp and he did more of a traverse and exit. THe two trips were dramatically different, do to the size of the glacier!

Sunday morning, when I woke the conditions were less than great. The snow had changed to heavy rain. We gathered at the entrance of the VIMC building and we were off and running by 10 AM. The rain had transitioned to heavy rain/snow mixture and and each of us had water slowly sliding down our jackets, hats, etc.

Our planned route would take us around Lake Helen Mackenzie and back, a nice little tour. We didn’t make it as far as the lake, the conditions were really poor for skiing. Once leaving the lodge, the precipitation changed to snow, then heavy snow.   Each of us took a turn navigating by compass, choosing a heading and checking bearings.

After about 2 hours we changed our plan, we chose a location next to a hill to do some in digging and  examination of the snow conditions.  To be sure, this was not a course on reading snow, or Avalanche Skills Training, however the information should give participants a desire to get involved with more education.  I am registered for AST1, running at the end of February.

We followed our tracks home, arriving at Raven Lodge by 2 PM.  Upon our return we were greated by a simulated avalanche!  The leader buried an avalanche beacon, prior to leaving. We haphazardly organized and set about finding the beacon.  We were able to find the device in about 5 minutes. Obviously I need more practed.

 Even given the poor conditions,  I’m definately hooked. I have started looking for used gear.

See full album of 27 photographs….


  1. Welcome back to the ACC Matthew. Glad to hear you had a decent day out there. Harry is an awesome teacher. I too was at the AGM and led an attempt up Albert-Edward on Saturday. Conditions really were "not promising" from the outset. A good weekend nonetheless. BTW, great looking blog. See you in the hills – Sean McIntyre

    1. Author

      Thanks for the feedback Sean. I'm all geared up now, I bought two sets of skis/skins — used. However, I did buy new boots. Lets get together, show me the ropes!

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