Tuesday, May 27, 2008

WWA Action Alert: National Parks

We’ve added a section of Action Alerts from our partnership with the Winter Wildlands Alliance for our Where Will You Ski readers. Karhu is proud to support the Boise, ID-based Winter Wildlands Alliance, a national nonprofit organization with the mission of promoting and preserving winter wildlands and a quality human-powered snowsports experience on public lands.

Taking The Best Idea to the Next Century…

Our National Park System has been called America's best idea. It seems like an overstatement until you snowshoe into Glacier Gorge in Rocky Mountain National Park, or ski tour amongst bison in Yellowstone or ski the steeps in the Tetons or Cascades. The National Park Service manages many of the most spectacular high mountain backcountry ski terrain in the country. In addition, the National Park Service Rivers and Trails program provides assistance to communities across the country on recreational trails, and the agency provides leadership in the federal government on resource conservation and interpretation.

(Nils Larsen and Charlie Lozner enjoy lunch on a ski tour just east of the North Cascades National Park, WA. Photo by Graham Gephart)

The park system will turn 100 years in 2016 and Congress and the President are poised to take major steps to make the parks ready for their next century with legislation that will get rangers out in the field interacting with park visitors, reduce the park system's environmental footprint, and protect cultural and natural resources. Of particular importance to winter enthusiasts, the initiative will protect and enhance high quality human-powered recreation including backcountry skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing and many other sports our community enjoys like climbing, hiking, mountain biking, and paddling.

The House of Representatives is leading the way with the National Park Centennial Fund Act,
HR 3094. The bill has strong support from both Democrats and Republicans and it looks ready for a full House floor vote in the near future.Help make the floor vote happen by taking one or both of the following actions:

1) Send an email to your member of Congress. Ask him or her to get this important bill to the House floor for a full vote, and to vote "YES."

2) Send an email Letter to the Editor to your local paper so they can help spread the news.

You can help bring the "best" idea into its next century with all the care and foresight that it deserves!

Thanks Much,
Steve Ryder
Grassroots Program Director

Click to Take Action
For more information about the bill, click here.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Fly-in Touring in the Neacolas

Reader Scott Fennell of Anchorage, AK sent us a link to his spring trip flying into Alaska’s Neacola Range. Dropped off by plane for a week of touring anything within reach, they chose a beautiful setting with the vast glaciers and rugged summits of the Neacolas. Better than any setting or skiing though, is that they brought a member’s son along with them.

This is exactly how I got my first exposure to serious backcountry skiing, as a 15-year-old headed to the Selkirks for a week of hut touring with my dad and his friends. It was a special feeling to experience such wilderness and adventure with the group of guys that had taught me the mechanics of the climb and the turn, and all of a sudden it all clicked, turning an interest into a deep-seated passion that’s stuck with me ever since.

Below is an excerpt from Scott’s report, and a link to more of their words and photos. Kudos to you guys from Karhu, for sharing your adventures and helping set a backcountry appreciation and passion in another young skier.

(“Don’t tell your mother.” The group awaiting pickup at the end of the week. Photos courtesy of Scott Fennell.)

Leo Americus and his son Ben were looking for some ski partners for a fly-in to the Neacolas. Cody, Thomas, and I jumped at the opportunity. The Neacolas are about 100 miles west of Anchorage and they don't get skied nearly as often as they should. In fact, we were wondering if some of our lines were first descents. If they were, it's more of a testament to the vastness of Alaska and the forgiving conditions that prevailed during our trip. But still, we started naming stuff.

We flew via Beaver into Chakachamna Lake and then shuttled onto the glacier via Supercub. My jaw hit the glacier floor when I realized that the entire area was covered in bottomless powder. We sank to our knees in cold smoke when we hopped off the plane. And the terrain was SO legit. After setting up camp, Cody and I grabbed a few turns in the nearby Backyard Couloir. After my first turn, I knew we were in for an amazing trip.

Read on here...

(Cody arcing into Roller South.)

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Monday, May 19, 2008

AMGA Exam – Zoe’s Perspective

Big congratulations today to Karhu Ambassador Zoe Hart, who just recently passed her Ski Mountaineering Guide’s exam. With that, she becomes the fourth American woman to earn guiding’s highest credential – IFMGA (International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations) status. Achieving the status is a very long process of course-taking, passing guide certification exams in Rock, Alpine and Ski Mountaineering, with guiding days between each. It’s a huge accomplishment, and all of us at Karhu would like to say congrats!

Last week AMGA Guide Evan Stevens brought us several posts on the process of instructing the Ski Mountaineering exam in Valdez, AK. Today it seems appropriate to bring you Zoe’s perspective as one of the aspirant guides taking it:

I stared out the window across the Chugach as we floated into the air. Tears began to roll down my cheeks. I slouched deeper into my chair to hide my face from my Examiners who where sitting a few rows ahead of me. I hadn’t cried on this exam and I wanted to keep it that way, at least in their minds. The feeling of completion settled in. The process of courses began 5 years ago the exams 7 and now I was finished. I felt light and heavy all at once. Memories of staring out an airplane window 11 years ago flooded through my heart. It was the first time I would go home to see my family without my father. I remembered crying the whole flight home. Nothing made sense. He was a healthy 42-year-old man, fit, and strong and he had died of a heart attack in the middle of his daily run. I was sad that I couldn’t share this pin with my father, but maybe I already had. It was May 7th, I was pinned on May 6th – his birthday. His death sent me searching, and I found the answers I was looking for in the mountains.


One by one the candidates trickled into Anna’s B&B. The common lodging choice for the AMGA exam participants due to Anna’s cooking and motherly nature! Geoff Unger and Mike Bromberg arrived first. Mike was the local guru this year as he had spent the winter heli ski guiding in Valdez and had a great handle on conditions and snowpack. Geoff had unfortunately just torn a knee ligament when I arrived and was on the injured reserves. A few other candidates joined the anxious crew, and we all headed into the horrible weather to train. Whiteouts, GPS, map, compass, breakable crust. UGHH, I could only hope that the weather would open up before the exam.

(Zoe prepping skis for the exam. Photos courtesy of Zoe Hart.)

Each night at dinner was a back and forth of SWAG (the American Avalanche standards) information, sled rescue ideas, short roping techniques, crevasse rescue. My head was spinning by the time I went to bed. We broke into small groups each day exploring different potential objectives, gathering information, and sharing it over dinner and breakfast.
Each night I dipped into the guilty pleasure of wireless internet, and old episodes of Desperate Housewives and Lost. I don’t have television in France, and it was all I could think of to clear my busy mind.

In the mornings I woke with a gasp and the remnants of exam stress dreams, examiners hovering over my shoulder, getting lost in a whitout, losing a ski, falling into a crevasse.

Four days before the exam I received an email from a good friend and mentor Steve House

"I recommend that you rest. Decompress. Maybe get outta guide-world for a bit if that is possible. That kind of thing helped me more than stressing about prepping. You'll be more impressive doing a 90% perfect job totally on-sight than 100% perfect job having done the tour before."

He was right. I needed to step back but the energy in the group was buzzing. Twelve of us, accomplished athletes, pig-headed guides, and 11 of them MEN. I was having FOMO (fear of missing out) the days I chose to rest, but I needed to. I wondered what if I get the objective that the other guys are out doing, and I didn’t do it? What if it’s a whiteout? The answer was, it’s my job to prove that I can handle all those skills without having done the tour already. So, really if I was ready, none of those things would be a problem for me. We met at the Totem Inn in Valdez. We were introduced to the examiners, the itinerary and the groups. We picked out of a hat and would stay with our groups of four each day and rotate examiners.
The first day we did group skills examinations, crevasse rescue, beacon searches, sled lowers. It was pretty mellow; as long as you had your technical systems dialed and had practiced, you should be fine, should be a gimme.

Day two my group drew Rob Hess first. I knew I had to perform. I had attempted the exam last year and hadn’t passed (a normal phenomenon in the exam process), and I wanted to show him how much I had improved. I knew I’d be battling a male dynamic all week, 11 male candidates, three male examiners and ME, and I wanted to step up first to show my confidence and leadership.

I led out towards the Berlin Wall and Goodwills, our first objective. As we got higher and higher, the winds picked up and the skies closed in. I pulled out my GPS, compass and map and fought anxiety. Taking a deep breath I kept the constant pace and landed us directly below the col we were heading for. Time to swap. My hot seat was done for the day, and I had succeeded. Throughout the day you are examined constantly on movement skills, assessments and notations, whether you are in the front or not, but you rotate through the hot seat.

Due to weather and avalanche hazard we chose not to ski the steep North Facing Couloirs on the Berlin Wall and continue with our traverse.

The rest of the day went without a hitch, and the rest of the candidates rotated through with the same confidence and success.

Each night we joined the examiners to talk about the day, where we were given a debrief to evaluate our performance, both by the examiners and ourselves. There are a plethora of things talked about, from technique to style, application and standards. Having been on other exams before I knew by Rob’s feedback we had all done well, but the day was mostly straight forward.

Day three, our objective was Python and the Cherry Couloir, a 50+ degree couloir on the east face. We couldn’t boot up the couloir, and stability was variable. One of the other groups had found a buried weak layer on a NE aspect that was reactive and potentially dangerous. The winds had been high enough to transport snow, and we had already found wind slabs on the Berlin Wall. Once you got into the Cherry, you were going down it. If you fell in the Cherry or were avalanched, you were most likely coming out the bottom. I knew it would be a challenging day.

Nat Patridge, another candidate, drew the start of the day. Each night we chatted as a group about stability, route plans and hazards. We decided it would be best to ski a less committing, subsidiary couloir on the arm of Python first to see what the conditions were like before we committed ourselves to the Cherry. Nat took us up and down the first mini-golf couloir. The conditions were good, but a little challenging. There was a firm sun crust from the warm spell that we had had the week before, before the bad weather and new cold snow settled in. We encountered sluff management and firm skiing skills, but overall the stability was good.
Off to the Cherry. We all knew Rob would swap the lead soon. Mike had lead a descent the other day, and Nat just did one, leaving Mark Allen or myself for the descent. Rob set us up for success and gave ample notice of the change.

“Ok Nat, you will lead us up part of the couloir to the col and then Zoe will take over.”

Urghhh, my heart raced. I knew it would be a challenging descent and part of me didn’t want it. I thought of the other groups skiing more mellow objectives, I wondered why Mark Allen couldn’t lead it. A few minutes of steaming, and I changed my mind. I’m gonna slay it. I can do this. Each step up the couloir, I thought of all the possible options, challenges, hazards, conditions and guiding techniques.

We arrived at the col, and the wind picked up. Each of us added layers, I prepped the rope just in case I needed it, looked up the steep scoured ridge and directed each candidate to put on their crampons and take out their axes. One of the challenges of ski guiding is higher ratios. Terrain that you might be able to short rope on with only 2 clients in alpine, you can’t with 4 in ski boots, and skis on your back. I started out of the col found good snow. My steps were deep, and they became our security, along with our axes and crampons, as the slope got steeper and steeper.

As we climbed, we began to foray into small pocket slabs, and I wondered whether we would make it to the ridge. I knew Rob wanted to ski it, if it was safe enough to do so. I knew that he hated when guides and candidates tried to find excuses not to have to deal with a technical situation and found reasons to go down rather than ways to manage hazards. Bit-by-bit I kicked steps up the steep face, stopping to do quick hand shears to see the quality of the slabs. They were small pockets and not consistent, so I felt it was safe to continue.

At the top we arrived upon a small ridge and a little rocky section. I stationed the rest of the group on the summit and took a walk alone to see what the conditions were like. Walking back I decided that everyone could downclimb the little steps in my bootprints, as long as I spotted them from falling into the couloir.

In the mouth of the couloir, I probed around with my shovel, happily finding no slabs – basically the same snowpack as the other mini golf pitch we had skied. One at a time, we sidestepped into the couloir around barely buried rocks. Finally all in, the energy was again buzzing, and we were all amped to ski.

Out front I could see from our entrance that the new snow above the suncrust would sluff as we skied, and I needed to manage it. Zig-zag-zig-zag, I zipped across the slope ski-cutting and pushing the excess snow down the couloir, looking for a little rocky nook protected from the next skier’s sluff to station myself. One at a time the candidates and Rob followed. The skiing wasn’t stellar, but the ambiance in the couloir was fun!

Two-thirds of the way down the couloir, Rob tapped me out, and Mark was up. Relieved and psyched, I felt that I had proven myself, and we soon made it out the bottom safe and sound with big smiles.

Night was again a frenzy of debriefs, dinners, drying gear, planning routes, printing maps and plotting points on GPS and topo programs. Sleep was secondary. We woke more and more exhausted, and there came a point of asking myself, “With four days left, how bad do I really want this?”

Day by day we faced challenges as they arriveds and learned bits of new information from our peers and examiners. Finally the last day came, with us all skiing down the Worthington with our three-day overnight packs. Whether we passed or failed was already written in the sand by then, and we were all relived.


May 6th, I sat waiting amongst the crew for my turn. I felt like vomiting. I felt confident that I had done very well, but wondered if I could truly be done with this examination process. I walked in the door to see Rob, Colin and Bela seated there, all straight-faced. “How did it go for you?”

I reached deep to come up with some poignant comments but really just wanted to know. Finally, Rob’s face lit up ear-to-ear.

“Ok, enough waiting, we’ll give you this first,” and with that he handed over his pin.
I had gone through a little bit of the process with each one of them. Colin Zacharias was my first examiner on my Alpine Exam; Bela Vadesz had taught me on my first ski course; and Rob Hess had taught me on my ski mountaineering Aspirant Course, watched me be unsuccessful on one exam, and seen me work and strive to the standard on the next.

Finally it had all come together. AND it was my dad’s birthday!!

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Bike-to-Work Day

May is National Bike-to-Work Month. Barring being on the road some last week, we’ve had great turnout at work for bike commuters, and office-wide we have 6 teams competing in the Cascade Bicycle Club/Group Health Commute Challenge. There are some pretty dedicated riders in the office… Karhu brand director Charlie Lozner already has 52 days bike commuting on the year, and snowboard binding engineer Frank Devlin rode in on the first day of Bike-to-Work Month with his kayak gear for an after-hours paddle.

Today is the official League of American Bicyclists Bike-to-Work Day, and it couldn’t have been a nicer one in Seattle, with blue skies and a forecast in the 80s. A lot of bikers were on the road this morning, and sponsors set up tents all around the city.

With the nice weather and a day dedicated to promoting bicycle travel, Charlie and I took a few snapshots from the commute this morning.

Charlie's commute:

Over the West Seattle Bridge, with views of downtown.

Looking south from the bridge.

Past the cement plant... heavy industrial roads through here.

Typical companion traffic.

The bike room starting to fill up this morning.

Graham's Commute:

Over the Fremont Bridge, about to climb around Queen Anne.

Quiet streets approaching downtown.

Dodging buses on the busiest part of the morning route.

Out of downtown, heading through industrial SoDo.

7 miles later, pulling into the office.

For me, it's a little more exercise on a moderately hilly route, and since it goes through the heart of the city, it doesn’t really take me much longer than it would in a car. Which is motivation enough for me.

-Graham Gephart

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Fast Grass and Dirty Corn

Brian and Emily at EmberPhoto keep eking out the turns in Vermont. It’s not exactly advised skiing for your skins or your bases, but well, sometimes you just have to bridge to the next patch of snow…

Thank goodness for smooth grass on a ski resort slope.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What it Takes to be a Ski Guide, Part IV

The fourth and final installment from Karhu ambassador Evan Stevens, wrapping up the AMGA Ski Mountaineering Guide Exam in Valdez, AK.

Today was the last day of the course/exam, and things are all wrapped up. I made a flight back to Anchorage, and have a few hours to kill before my 1am red eye back to the lower 48, allowing me to decompress and chill out for the first time in 10 days. Can you feel the weight lifting off of my shoulders?This is not an easy process - either for the aspiring guide or the instructor/examiner. The long days, lack of sleep and continuing challenges of touring and guiding day after day had taken their toll on everyone with a touch of fatigue setting in... but that can tell you a lot about a guide, as they process these issues, and still manage to guide and have some energy in the reserves for the anticipation of whatever issues may come out of the blue. Granted these courses tend to push people a little hard at times, as the candidates aren't used to juggling so many things day after day, but anything can happen in the mountains, and we need to know that these candidates can handle and manage all of these things before we can allow them to pass the examination component of this course. As a result, a 50% failure rate in guide programs throughout the world is not uncommon. Most aspiring guides usually fail at least one exam in their path to full certification as a rock, ski and alpine guide. This is for sure one of the toughest parts of the examining job, as you have 'journeyed' with these candidates through the last 10 days, helping them to achieve their goals and they don't always make it. But so it goes... if everyone passed just for signing and showing up, then being a certified guide wouldn't mean a thing.

At least for the last 3 days we got to hammer out a few more quality ski lines, possibly some of my last few turns of the season, as I will be diving head first into climbing season this week. In fact my last few turns were on one of my favorite runs on the planet, the Cherry Couloir on Python Peak. This dog leg chute drops right off the small summit down about 1,500' vertical, lined by cliffs holding an angle in the mid 40's. After that, another 3 grand of cruiser turns take you back to the car - you gotta love the big vertical of Alaska!

I already have a potential trip guiding in Valdez for next April, and I can't wait to come back! This place continues to blow my mind, and my last turns (possibly?!!?) of the season will carry me through to next fall...

(Marc leads Julia up the Python for some practice guiding. Photos courtesy of Evan Stevens.)

(Rapping down into the top of the Cherry Couloir right off of Python's Summit.)

(Julia Niles rips down the gut of the Cherry.)

(Joey Vallone showing us how its down on the lower part of the Cherry.)

(Yours truly getting in some amazing final turns of the season.)

For more on Evan’s experience during the AMGA Ski Guide exam in Valdez, see Part I, Part II and Part III.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

What it Takes to be a Ski Guide, Part III

Part III from Karhu Ambassador and AMGA Ski Guide Evan Stevens:

Well, we are down to the final stretch, only three more days left of the ski guide course. For the last three days we were on a point to point traverse, that started off quite spectacularly with a heli-drop. Our friends at Alaska Rendezvous Heli Guides lined us up with a drop on top of the 7,000-foot peak known as Ice Palace. This run was only guided once this season, and has some pretty interesting positions to say the least. Crevasses and ice falls border almost every turn on the top of the run, and everyone's adrenaline was high, when we were left by the bird perched on top of the line with packs full of 3 days worth of gear. Joey and I led the group down to demo some guiding techniques, and 3,200' later we were all stoked with the unbelievable amount of boot top powder we just skied in the first week of May.

(Ice Palace. Photos courtesy of Evan Stevens.)

So we then traveled up and over a glaciated col, skied down another huge shot to the massive Tonsina glacier. We skied about 8km up that glacier to go over another col, and dropped down to the Tsina glacier and camped amidst the never ending peaks and glaciers.

(Small skiers head down to the massive Tonsina Glacier.)

This was a big day, and we have been driving the candidates pretty hard. 12 hours out on the snow has been pretty standard, and none of us have averaged more than 5 hours sleep for the last week. Every certified guide I know has been put through the wringer, and it is important to know that your guide can keep going no matter what. Call it a rite of passage, or what ever you like, it is a hard process and you have to be able to keep up for days on end.So of course we kept going the next day. We woke up at our beautiful camp, and trekked up another 2500' feet to another col that led us to the Hoodoo glacier, winding our way through more ice falls and crevasses.

(Mark finds a clear path up to the Hoodoo Col.)

As instructors, we were almost hoping for some bad weather, so we could see how the candidates navigate up the big white glaciers in fog and whiteout conditions, we got a little bit of fowl weather, but it cleared out in time for our descent onto the Hoodoo.

(Whiteout clears for us at the col.)

We dropped onto the Hoodoo, made camp and busted up Girls Mountain for a sweet 3,000' of later afternoon skiing.

(The Hoodoo Glacier and Girls Mountain.)

Time to camp again, and we actually got 6 hours of sleep, and took it easy on the candidates the next day, with only one short 3,000' climb and ski out the backside of Girls Mountain down to the Worthington Glacier and the cars.

(Backcountry.com Athlete Julia Niles takes us down 4,200 feet to the cars.)

Sound like a lot? Well it has been, and like I said, we still have three more days of skiing left!On another note, it is always interesting to see what gear all of the guides are hammering on... especially when there are a few items that are in almost every single guides pack. First of course are Dynafit bindings. Light and bomber, there is no other choice for ski guides. The other items would be for camping. Jetboil stoves are universal as well; light, small and super efficient. The Black Diamond Firstlight (and other BD hyperlight tents) are the ONLY tents I see people with for winter camping - not amazing in the rain, but perfect in the cold and snow. Finally would be a plug for a new piece of gear I am using, the Outdoor Research Exped sleeping mats. I can't believe how well I slept on the Downmat 7 DLX, best night of sleep in the backcountry ever for me. Period. Okay, enough of a post for now... hope this inspires you to check out some new places, and if you hire a guide, to consider hiring an AMGA certified guide. We still have a few more days left, so check back to see what else we come up with for these aspiring certified guides!

For more on Evan’s experience during the AMGA Ski Guide exam in Valdez, see Part I and Part II.

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

What it Takes to be a Ski Guide, Part II

More in the series from Karhu Ambassador and AMGA Ski Guide Evan Stevens:

Day 2 and 3 of the AMGA Ski Mountaineering Guides Course just wrapped up. We spent day 2 finishing off our technical skills, by teaching the candidates glacier travel and crevasse rescue techniques on the Worthington Glacier right off of Thompson Pass. You have to love this place... 20 minutes of skinning from the car and we are on a glacier, skiing towards a crevasse to huck ourselves into and get dragged out of.

(Candidates hanging out in the crevasse. Photos courtesy of Evan Stevens.)

As you can imagine, it is essential to know how to be able to haul someone who falls into a slot out of it. It isn't exactly a walk in the park, as you have to arrest the person's fall into the slot, then build a ski anchor as you hold the person's weight on the rope so that you can escape their weight and build a hauling set up to get mechanical advantage so you can pull the person out of the slot.

(Ben fighting the pull of gravity as he arrests a crevasse fall.)

The plan for Day 3 didn't include any more rescue and technical skills assessment and practice, so obviously it means that it included some ski touring. We were all excited to get out and cover some ground and ski some of the big terrain that the Chugach are famous for. The weather here has been a bit less than ideal. Joey Vallone, one of the instructors I am working with, keeps running into tons of skiing rock stars he used to ski with, who are here to film. However, they have been sitting on their butts for weeks, as clouds and unsettled weather have kept the helis grounded. Lucky for us, we are traveling under our own power and can get around in the mountains as we please, and capitalize on the small windows of good weather.

(Working our way up a run called RFS - Really F-ing Steep!)

Luck for us, this actually meant some good views and visibility in the afternoon, and the added bonus treat of 10-15cm of fresh pow - not bad for May 1st!

(Instructor Howie Schwartz helps candidate Mark Hanselman pick and choose his way down the glacier.)

We got some good runs in, and got to look around and drool in anticipation of the next week of refining guiding skills.

(Julia Niles works with Howie on figuring out where we will go for the next 3 days.)

Finally we sat down with some maps to plan a 3 day ski traverse off of Thompson Pass. If the weather agrees we might get dropped off further away from the road by a heli, and ski back to the cars - if not, good old lungs and legs will get us far far away! I'll let you know how it goes in 3 days!

(Joey Vallone getting ready for some AK Heli Time!)

For more, see Evan's previous post here

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Monday, May 5, 2008

What it Takes to be a Ski Guide, Part I

The guiding season is not over for Karhu Ambassador Evan Stevens, who is busying himself up in Alaska right now teaching the AMGA’s Ski Mountaineering Guides Course. Certified in the field last year and helping pass on the knowledge to other prospective ski guides, Evan offers us a great perspective on what it takes.

I finally made it to Valdez, Alaska for the American Mountain Guides Association Ski Mountaineering Guides Course. For those of you who don't know, the AMGA trains and certifies guides in the Alpine, Rock and Ski disciplines, and when a candidate is certified in all three disciplines, they are considered an IFMGA (International Federation of Mountain Guides Association) Mountain Guide. It takes most people in the US 3 to 6 years to complete all of the trainings and certifications to become a full Mountain Guide, and right now there are fewer than 60 who have completed this process (in the US). Last year I finished this task, sort of your PHD of mountain travel, and have now been asked to start to teach and train the next round of guides. This crop includes guides from Alaska, Washington, Wyoming, Colorado and Idaho (to name a few) and also includes fellow backcountry.com athlete Julia Niles, who is on her way to becoming one of the few fully certified female mountain guides.

This course is 10 days long, and I thought it might be interesting (and entertaining) to give everyone a picture of what it actually means to be a trained and certified guide. Most developed countries in the world REQUIRE guides to be certified in order to work. This seems to make sense to me, you wouldn't want to trust your life to a doctor that wasn't board certified, so why trust your life to a guide that isn't certified? The land of the free, aka the U.S., has developed a guiding culture that did not require or put an emphasis in this certification process, but that perspective is starting to shift. More and more clients, guiding services and land managers are starting to see the importance of guide certification and the standards of practice and safety it brings to the table.

So here you go: I will bring you into the world of guide training and certification, and you can see what it takes to be a ski guide!

First things first, being a mountain guide means having a TON of gear (luckily I get to work with
backcountry.com). Still, I had to put away the bike and the cams, and load up the skis, ice axes, crampons, rescue sleds, shovels, etc... for one more stint of skiing this year.

I met up with my fellow instructors, Howie Schwartz and Joe Vallone, for some planning and prep for where and when we were going to take the candidates. Pouring over maps, past itineraries, recent snow pack data, and weather reports, we came up with a plan for the course.

Day 1 was today (Tuesday) and it entailed testing the candidates on their technical rescue skills. In our minds it is essential to know that the people I will be out in the mountains with on a course like this have my back.

The First of 4 drills was the construction of a rescue toboggan, loading a patient into it, lowering the patient 300 feet down a 45 degree slope (through 2 anchor stations that they construct out of skis) and finally dragging the sled 300 feet across a slope. This all has to be done in 70 minutes.

The second drill was finding 3 buried avalanche beacons in a 300 by 300 foot area in 7 minutes or less. Usually 2 of these beacons are buried about 10 feet apart and are at least 3 feet deep in the snow, with the third beacon being at least 5 feet deep in the snow.

The third drill was the construction of an emergency shelter with a tarp, shovel, and 3 pairs of skis and poles in 30 minutes.

Finally, we had the candidates dig some snow profiles (snow pits) so that we know their assessments of the snowpack are up to snuff.

Sound like a lot so far? It only took us 10 hours to get all of this stuff done...and tomorrow we still need to assess the students at crevasse rescue! After that we will start to get to skiing the big lines and covering some ground in the amazing Chugach Mountains...

Stay tuned here and on my blog for the next 10 days as I keep you posted on the daily trials and tribulations of what it takes to be a ski guide!

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Friday, May 2, 2008

Whistler World Backcountry Freeride Jam

The TELUS World Ski and Snowboard Festival draws thousands of snow sliders to Whistler for 10 days and 10 nights. Events range from slopestyle contests to concerts, but the special events of the World Backcountry Freeride Jam are particularly special. With its Backcountry Village to Randonnee Tours, the Race Series, Safety Clinics and Telemark Lessons, the Backcountry Freeride Jam provides great exposure for all things backcountry. Telemark instructor Tom Gellie sent us an trip report from the event…

(Wandering through the Backcountry Village. Photos courtesy of Tom Gellie)

I didn't expect there to be great skiing at Whistler during the World Ski and Snowboard Festival but that wasn’t the reason for going. Festivals are all about meeting up with old friends, making new ones, getting amongst some of the events on offer and generally celebrating the fact we love to ski. As part of the huge Ski and Snowboard festival there is the World Backcountry Freeride Jam. The organisers of this had done a great job in organising many clinics, demos and parties as a part of this get together. People could take part in Telemark clinics, backcountry tours with qualified guides, demo the latest equipment and all of this for FREE!

(Tom goes chuting on Blackcomb.)

The first day of the Jam was exciting because I had a new pair of Karhu Spires to try. Unfortunately though the mountain had gone from being above freezing temps to -7 C overnight. A dusting of a few centimetres made it a little more enjoyable. Some friends and I managed to find some pretty fun and challenging skiing given the conditions and many a time that day did I ask myself why I telemarked?? Hitting big ugly ice cookies hidden under a skiff of powder can suck while trying to negotiate some of Blackcomb's couloirs. I also wondered why I’d ordered that last drink at the bar last night? That day we skiied past the guys setting the courses for the three randonee style races held over the weekend. These ranged from 10km jaunts inbounds to the serious Spearhead Pasage. For those looking to blast the lungs a straight uphill race (4000ft) from the Village to the Roundhouse Gondola could be done on the Saturday.

(The telemark clinic crew.)

The second day I had organised to meet up with some ripping tele gals and let them show me some of Whistler Mountain. It was really awesome to have a big crew of tele skiers. It rarely happens I find except for at festivals. Even more rare is it that they all rip!! The energy was great and we managed to find some sweet pockets of new snow. I knew exactly why I chose to telemark that particular day. The girls demoed some new equipment and talked of how to tactfully approach their other halves on why they need new boots and skis.

(Whistler rip-session.)

That evening we all headed to one of the parties where they had a fundraiser for repairs to a popular backcountry hut in the area. Lots of great prizes where given away and a good time had by all.

(What a cap to the northern session!)

The Whistler World Backcountry Freeride Jam is a great event with lots on offer. Most of it free too. It is also held at the time of year when you are winding down your ski season so is a great way to finish off. I’m now on my way south preparing for skiing again back in Australia so it was definitely a nice way for myself to tie off a great Northern Hemisphere winter.

Ski you later,

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