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Being adventure smart in the springtime backcountry

The recent sunny weather has been gorgeous for heading into the backcountry on skis, a snowboard or sled for springtime lines, outstanding views, and end-of-day hangouts catching the final rays with your friends. But, as we all know, the backcountry needs to be treated with respect. We caught up with Joelle Tiessen, Marketing Director of Mountain Skills Academy & Adventures (MSAA), for guidance on how to safely make the most of springtime in the backcountry.

 

Dress in layers:it get warm hiking in the Spring. Photo credit: MSAA

 

What steps do you recommend beginners take before heading into the backcountry to ski, snowboard or sled?

Tiessen: Before anyone heads into the backcountry, the first step is always to take a Level 1 Avalanche Skills Training (AST 1) course. This course makes you aware of the dangers of travelling in uncontrolled terrain and beyond the ski patrol resort boundaries. [In resorts patrollers manage the terrain and are also available for rescue. “Uncontrolled terrain” isn’t managed to reduce the risk of avalanche or other hazards such as crevasses, and rescue may not be possible—Editor.] If you are planning to go into the backcountry you want to always carry a transceiver, probe and shovel. The AST 1 course teaches you how to use these tools in an avalanche rescue situation and how to stay out of avalanche trouble spots so hopefully you never need to use those skills.

 

Learn about safety in the backcountry on an introductory Level 1 Avalanche Skills Training course. Photo credit: MSAA

 

What would you recommend somebody brings in their bag on a backcountry trip? AdventureSmart recommends these 10 items (a flashlight, fire-making kit, signaling device, extra food and water, extra clothing, navigation/communication aids, first aid kid, emergency shelter, pocket knife and sun protection), but do you have any further tips? 

Tiessen: One item that we would add to this list is a repair kit for your gear. You don’t want to have a binding or pole or other key item break while you are way out in the backcountry. If something does break, having spare parts, duct tape, ski straps and a multi-tool can come in very handy and make the difference between getting back before dark or spending a long night out.

 

Duct Tape can get you out of a sticky situation.

 

Is avalanche.ca the best website to check on conditions? Or do you know of other resources? 

Tiessen: For the Sea to Sky area, avalanche.ca is the best resource for avalanche conditions. It’s also good to get in habit of browsing a Facebook group like South Coast Touring to read about individual experiences in specific locations. Another source for a little geeking out is the Wayne Flann Avalanche Blog. There are many more, but find your favourites and keep current on local conditions throughout the season.

The backcountry is a pretty intimidating place, do you recommend any ways for newer adventurers to get ongoing guidance and mentorship? 

Tiessen: There are several local groups who meet up casually (like South Coast Touring on Facebook) and welcome new tourers (who have taken AST1), there are also mentor groups like Mountain Mentors for women. Hiring a local ski guide for a day is a great way to get into new terrain and learn tips to make your touring experiences better and safer. Many local shops also offer clinics for free or a minimal fee on certain dates throughout the season. And if you like to geek out a little, our local bookstore [Armchair Books. You can also try Whistler Public Library.] has titles on avalanche topics and there is also YouTube for mini instructional videos to keep your skills fresh. If you are very new and not sure you’re ready to commit to all the gear and training, just take an Intro to Backcountry guided tour where you can get a taste and see if touring is for you.

 

 

What should experienced backcountry adventurers do to keep their skills fresh? I’ve heard it’s important to take an annual avalanche safety refresher course.

Tiessen: It is good to practice your avalanche training skills regularly, especially at the beginning of each season. You can do this with your touring friends or take a one-day refresher course with a professional guide to continue learning. There are also options to build more advanced rescue skills by taking a Companion Rescue Skills clinic or going even farther and taking the Level 2 Avalanche Skills Training course. There is a snow field up on Blackcomb Mountain near the Rendezvous where patrollers bury transceivers to practice searching, and members of the public are welcome to practice there as well.

If someone is vacationing in Whistler, is there a way for them to safely experience this area’s backcountry without owning all the equipment? 

Tiessen: The best and safest way for visitors to get into the backcountry is to go with a local guide who can show them around terrain appropriate to their skill level. There are a couple of local businesses that specialize in renting all the touring gear you need from skis, skins, splitboards, transceivers, probes and shovels and even avalanche airbags. MSAA’s tours do not include rental gear but we partner up with Escape Route Alpine Demo Centre and they offer our guests a 20 per cent discount on most rental gear. [Excess Backcountry is another option—Editor.]

Read more about being adventure smart in the backcountry here and Mountain Skills Academy & Adventures. For more adventures, join us at GO Fest from May 17 to 20.

#GOFestWhistler with the boys

Got GO Fest plans with your guy group, but feeling awed by the looong list of Long Weekend activities? No worries. We’ve gone through the list and sorted the best, from the frankly also-awesome rest.

Thursday, May 17

Keen to get a head start on the weekend and a lot of cardio? Join the Retro WORCA Toonie Race. The cross-country mountain bike ride starts at 6:30 p.m. Remember to raid your dad’s basement in advance because the ride has a dress code: a retro bike and outfit. The race is part of Whistler Mountain Bike Heritage Week presented by the Whistler Museum and sign in at Arbutus Routes, unit 112, 4557 Blackcomb Way. (Cost: $2 for WORCA members (membership is $60 for adults, $25 for youth, and $15 for children aged 12 and under. Buy your membership online and sign the waiver online too).

Friday, May 18

Begin your Friday night with the Story of Whistler’s Alpine Mountain Bike Trails at Whistler Museum, 4333 Main Street. Trail builder Dan Raymond and WORCA’s Director of Planning Todd Hellinga will tell the history of Whistler’s trails and describe the building of the hotly anticipated (and charismatically monikered) Lord of the Squirrels trail. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the talk begins at 7 p.m. (Cost: entry by donation to WORCA trail maintenance.)

Continue your evening with two surf documentaries as part of the Whistler Film Festival Adventure Film Series. Transition will be screened at 9 p.m. at the Maury Young Arts Centre. The story follows surfer Noah Cohen face and overcome injury. Next up: Sian Sessions, from Deus Ex Machina, documents the people, places and adventures found during the making of iconic surf film South to Sian. Expect big waves, motorbikes, and dramatic cinematography. (Cost: $15. Purchase tickets online.)

Saturday, May 19

Start your Saturday at 8:50 a.m. with an invigorating five-kilometer Whistler Parkrun starting at the Lost Lake Passivhaus, just steps from Whistler Village (and conveniently close to a big cooked breakfast post-run). The run heads through Lost Lake Park’s trails and around the lake which, like most of Whistler, has views of the local mountains. (Cost: free. Arrive at 8:50 a.m. for a 9 a.m. start and register online in advance).

Sun’s out guns out, so get your biceps ready for some competitive Forged Axe Throwing. The mobile trailer is open 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. at Whistler Olympic Plaza. The aim of the game is to hurl axes at a target to hit bulls-eye. Bring your finest lumberjack plaid. (Cost: free.)

Between noon and 4 p.m., get the party started at the Table Tutors: DJ Experience at Whistler Olympic Plaza. The workshop offers music mixing, live beat production and turntable tutoring. You’ll learn to scratch records, create a live beat and build a set. This workshop is available Saturday and Sunday, so you can stop by for more the next day. (Cost: free).

Mountain biker? Stop by the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre for a screening of Darcy Turenne’s mountain biking documentary The Moment, followed by a Q&A with freeride mountain bike pioneer Brett Tippie. Doors open at 8 p.m. (Cost: by donation to the BC Aboriginal Youth Mountain Bike program.)

Enjoy climbing? Choose the 7 p.m. or 9 p.m. Whistler Film Festival Adventure Film Series screening of Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey at the Maury Young Arts Centre. Fred Beckey was one of the most influential climbers, as well as a nomadic author and dirtbag who inspired generations of athletes to hit the road on a quest to further their sport. (Cost: $15. Purchase tickets online.)

Sunday, May 20

Brum brum. Do you love Austin Powers, The Italian Job, Goldfinger, Swordfish, The Spy Who Loved Me—ok most Bond movies—not for the narrative, but for the legendary British car engineering? Up to 100 vintage British vehicles will be in Creekside Village from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. for the All British Car Show. (Cost: free).

The final screening of the Whistler Film Festival Adventure Film Series begins at 5 p.m. with the Short Film Series: seven short films in 97 minutes followed by the Western Canadian premiere of surf documentary Proximity. Proximity is directed by award-winning filmmaker Taylor Steel and Produced by Teton Gravity Research (TGR). The documentary pairs surfing icons with young surfers today to explore the relationship between people, time and place in locations around the world. (Cost: $15. Purchase tickets online.)

In addition to the smorgasbord of activities above, GO Fest offers free concerts at the Village Square Mainstage. Juno-winning Canadian pop and alternative rock group The Philosopher Kings will launch the live music series planned for GO Fest at 7:30 p.m. on Friday night, May 18. On Saturday, May 19 at 3 p.m., Carmanah will lay down their unique west coast soul sound. Later that night at 7:30 p.m. roots rock quartet Current Swell take the stage. On Sunday, May 20 Coco Jafro will play their worldly funk fusion and musical rhythms from Africa to the Americas at 3 p.m.; followed by forward-thinking electronic music from the Funk Hunters at 7:30 p.m.