More people traveling into the backcountry in search of great ski and snowboard conditions increases the odds of avalanches, says backcountry guide and avalanche awareness instructor Martin Keyserlingk.
“Avalanches are not at all static and they don’t know whether you’re an expert or not. And whether you are or not you really need to keep your head on at all times,” he says.
Keyserlingk took 20 Selkirk College students into the backcountry at Selkirk Wilderness Skiing over the weekend to learn about avalanche formation and theory, and rescue skills.
“We try to teach students a lot about how to find out that information before they go out skiing and to teach them about the formations and some of the terrain choices and traps,” he said. “We do a lot of companion rescue skills and we do snow study skills as well.”
The avalanche awareness was part of ski resort operations and management program.
Keyserlingk says the course was beneficial for the Selkirk students in particular because with their program they spend a lot of time studying the resort aspect of the program which includes lifts and run grooming.
“It was great to get them into the backcountry and learning about that end of things,” he says.
For over 16 years Keyserlingk has been working as a guide.
He was the former owner, lead guide and operations manager of Valhalla Powdercats and now works for Stellar Heli-skiing.
“I’ve seen lots of avalanches over my years. I’ve never been caught in one,” he says. “Hopefully they’re not shocking, hopefully they’re expected. It’s quite impressive. There’s a lot of energy that can build up in the mountains and to see that release is quite spectacular at times. I also have my blasting certificate as well so we initiate avalanches to test slopes and to clear out dangerous areas, so you get see lots of them over the years.”
Avalanche awareness courses like the ones offered at Selkirk College are important for anyone planning to spend time in the backcountry.
“It’s definitely important that anyone who is planning on spending time in the backcountry take a course like this. It’s a great starter, I’ve been in the guiding industry for about 20 years now and I still learn new things every year,” says Keyserlingk.
The Canadian Avalanche Centre – which will be celebrating Avalanche Awareness Days at Whitewater Ski Resort on Sunday – provides extensive information for anyone traveling in the backcountry.
“In Canada were very fortunate we have the best avalanche centre in the world because we’re such an open and sharing industry in Canada,” said Keyserlingk. “It’s great to start that dialogue and start that learning as early as you can, and just make sure that people are out there continuously learning, talking about avalanches and making sure it’s not an awkward subject matter, that it becomes open forever.”
For more information on avalanche awareness courses visit skiwhitewater.com or visit the continuing education calendar at Selkirk College at selkirk.ca/ce/