With an endless stream of flawless backcountry shots popping up on local social media feeds, it’s easy to be enticed to ski out of bounds.
Add to that increased and improved freeriding gear in ski and board shops throughout the Village, and it’s not hard to see why young athletes are itching to top out new lines. But with a limited scope of experience, how can they position themselves to make the best decisions in new, and potentially dangerous, terrain?
Extremely Canadian is launching a new program to help youth do exactly that. The one-day Big Mountain Awareness Camps aim to equip advanced intermediate to expert skiers and riders between the ages of 13 and 18 with the knowledge, understanding and attitudes necessary to make the best — and safest — decisions on snow.
“The motivation behind it really was quite sincere, for myself and Mitch (Sulkers),” said Extremely Canadian’s backcountry supervisor and lead guide Keith Reid. “Myself, having a young child, I really wanted to do something for the youth that in this case would increase their safety behavior while having a really cool experience on the mountain. The theoretical part of it, so to speak, is to better their situational awareness of what they’re doing out there.”
Campers will learn how to manage the personal, social and environmental factors affecting skiing and riding, how the signage around the hill functions, how to approach tree well and avalanche safety, what to do if you get lost, where to find patrol offices, the importance of the buddy system, what to do in the event of an accident and more — all while having a great day of skiing.
“They want to demonstrate that you can have fun and still consider all of these things,” said Reid.
The camps will take place in bounds on Whistler Blackcomb, although participants will be venturing off-piste.
“Within ski area boundaries, there’s a ton of off-piste terrain that’s avalanche prone that you wouldn’t normally encounter for avalanche control. There’s tons of opportunity where that boundary is really vague and people go beyond that boundary and get into a lot of trouble, almost akin to what you would get in a backcountry environment,” Reid explained. “This is designed to better their situational awareness so if they are off-piste — off-piste being still being inbounds — that they have a cognitive understanding of the consequences and make better choices… You can’t overemphasize, in our little world of Whistler Blackcomb, the inbounds environment is a really big and diverse place that doesn’t necessarily have patrol streaming all over.”
While the camp is best suited for skiers and riders comfortable on challenging terrain, Reid said the program is flexibly structured to maximize adaptability depending on any group’s skill level.
Reid also hopes to transition the program into more backcountry-based youth camps in the future.
“This will likely be the back link for youth’s intro to ski touring and the AST1 (Avalanche Safety Training) program, which will then be the back link for a more advanced AST2 program, all aimed at that youth (demographic). This is kind of the building block for that.”
The Big Mountain Awareness Camp is set to run on Dec.30, Jan. 16 and 30, Feb. 13, 20 and 24, March 15 and 22 and April 15. Costs are from $96 for camp and lunch, $150 for the camp, lunch and lift pass and $189 for camp, lunch, lift pass and rental.
For more information, go to www.extremelycanadian.comor call 1-800-938-9656.