An avalanche course is the first step in building one’s backcountry repertoire, but taking your skills and knowledge to the next level requires mentorship and regular assessment of snow conditions.
Having someone qualified explain the language of an avalanche advisory in simpler terms — and offer their own perspective — can help with how people interpret the effects of weather in backcountry terrain.
After hearing and seeing backcountry reports posted to YouTube from ski towns in the Canadian Rockies and the U.S., James Retty, owner of local outfitter Escape Route, thought that Whistler and the Coast Mountains could use a weekly video report of its own.
“I’d been wanting to do something like this for a while,” said Retty. “The one we saw out of Canmore was a little more guide-oriented, this is more for the backcountry layperson, people who have probably taken an AST (Avalanche Skills Training) course and if they haven’t, we’re certainly encouraging them to do so. Touring has always been our focus at the Escape Route. We need to do everything we can to get people out there touring, safely.”
The weekly video series, titled Coast Mountain Backcountry Report is hosted by Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) certified ski guide Jeff Van Driel and avalanche instructor Mitch Sulkers. It gives viewers a run down of current snow pack conditions, potential backcountry hazards (such as early season glacial crevasses) and the best terrain choices with up-to-date assessments.
“It’s another piece of the puzzle, another way for people to access information,” said Van Driel. “People learn in different ways, some people like to read, some people are experiential, some people are visual learners. It’s another medium for getting information out there and another perspective on that information.”
The first episode, which was released last Thursday (Dec. 4), Van Driel reported from the Spearhead Glacier and highlighted the current crevasse hazards, formation of surface hoar on certain aspects and a brief look at snow profile. By keeping the information easily digestible for recreational backcountry users, people can gain a better understanding of bulletins such as those released daily by Whistler Blackcomb and Avalanche Canada.
The video series is being produced as a collaboration between Escape Route, DPS Skis and Arc’teryx and in future episodes will bring condition updates from different parts of the Coast Mountains such as the Whistler Blackcomb backcountry, Duffey Lake area and the Squamish area, including the newly accessible zones from the Sea to Sky Gondola. Van Driel and Sulkers will also be featuring content on new avalanche safety equipment and encourage viewers to offer feedback, whether it’s ideas for content or condition updates of their own.
“We want to provide pertinent information and the more that is out there, the better idea we all have of what’s going on,” said Van Driel. “I would encourage people as a general rule of thumb to send their observations to Avalanche Canada or to Wayne Flann’s avalanche blog. The more information the better and this is another channel for that.”
To view the Coast Mountain Backcountry Report head to Escape Route’s YouTube Channel.