IAG COVID-19 Best Practices

Posted on May 30, 2020

We are really happy to have had a busy and successful summer season despite the pandemic. Thanks to all of you who have come out with us this summer!

With COVID-19, we do have a new risk to manage, and we take this responsibility to our customers, our staff and our communities very seriously. Below is the current iteration of our COVID-19 Best Practices document. It includes our plans for operating Avalanche Skills Training (AST) this winter. We've been soliciting feedback from all of our customers on how we're doing at managing the COVID-19 risk, and are happy to report that with a few tweaks we have successfully managed to make our guests comfortable with our risk management, while still delivering on our trip and course objectives without much negative impact from our COVID-19 measures.

You can write to us at any time to receive a copy of the latest iteration of this docuemnt and do feel free to contact us with any questions that you may have.

Island Alpine Guides Covid-19 Risk Management Practices (Ver. 19 Oct 2020)

Context

This document outlines a series of ‘best practices’ which Island Alpine Guides (IAG) will follow for operating trips and courses while the risk of transmission of COVID-19 is present.

The contents of this document are derived predominantly from the advice of the Office of the BC Provincial Health Officer and industry best practices as outlined in the following two documents:

Association of Canadian Mountain Guides - Suggested COVID-19-related Best Practices for Phased Return to Work for ACMG Members - May 13, 2020.
BC Adventure Programs - COVID-19 Best Practices - Created by members of the Adventure Articulation Committee British Columbia Council of Articulation and Transfer (BCCAT) - April 2020

These practices are subject to change as public health advice and industry best practices evolve.

All trip/course participants as well as IAG guides and instructors will be required to:

Read this document
Sign the COVID-19 Practices Agreement and Declaration of Health and Exposure
Submit the results of an online COVID-19 Screening Questionnaire

Co-management of COVID-19 Risk

Responsibility for managing the spread of COVID-19 will be shared with all course/trip participants and IAG staff. Participants and staff alike must understand their personal roles and responsibilities in reducing the potential spread of the virus. Additionally all participants must understand that continued delivery of courses and trips is contingent on following all protocols. Participants will be excluded from activities if unable to follow protocols. Participants and staff must understand that all directives in this document are designed to manage the risk of COVID-19. but will not eliminate that risk. 

It remains a possibility, despite these precautions, that participants or staff could contract the COVID-19 virus.

Pre-trip Communication with Participants

All participants are being informed that IAG is taking precautions to limit potential viral spread
Specific precautions will be determined and described based on the state of pandemic at the time of participation, as well as the attendant public health and industry advice
All participants are being informed that the waiver has changed to reflect COVID-19 risk and that they must to read it thoroughly to ensure they understand and acknowledge those changes
All participants will be required to complete an online COVID-19 screening questionnaire five days prior to their trip and send a screenshot of their results to IAG.
All participants will be required to sign a Declaration of Health and Exposure. Participation will be limited to those who can attest to being well, to not having been exposed to anyone who is sick, and to not having travelled outside the country within 14 days of the commencement of the trip. Additionally participants in higher risk demographics (age >64 years, pre-disposing conditions) will be asked not to participate.
IAG cancellation policy has been adjusted to allow for unforeseen changes. If IAG is forced to reschedule or cancel trips or courses because of restrictive measures coming back into place due to a resurgence in the virus, everyone booked will be given the choice of rescheduling or receiving a full credit for anytime in the future. Additionally if booked participants are not feeling well in the lead up to a trip, IAG will insist that they do not participate and will offer a full credit.
If participants are booking front-country accommodation previous to the trip/course they must vet the viral mitigation procedures of the accommodation provider before booking.
Participants are informed that by signing COVID-19 Practices Agreement and participating in the trip or course, they agree to abide by the mitigation procedures in this document. They also accept and understand that despite all precautions, participants and/or staff are still at risk of contracting the virus.

Pre-trip Communication with IAG Guides/Instructors

All guides/instructors will be informed that we are taking precautions to limit potential viral spread and that their participation on the trip is dependent on their agreement to abide by these guidelines.
All guides/instructors will be required to sign the COVID-19 Practices Agreement and Declaration of Health and Exposure
IAG will only engage guides/instructors who can attest to being well, to not having been exposed to anyone who is sick, and to have not travelled outside the country within 14 days of the commencement of the trip. Additionally guides/instructors in higher risk demographics (age >64 years, pre-disposing conditions) will not be engaged.
Pre-trip/course meetings will be held with guides/instructors at which we will discuss in detail the pandemic-related mitigations we are instituting on the trip, review emergency protocols specific to viral mitigation and consider limits to exposure to risks other than COVID-19

Transportation

All participants and guides/instructors should arrive at the meeting point in their own vehicles, alone or in a cohabiting group, or having been dropped off with an expectation to be picked up by a member of their cohabiting group

Group Hygiene 

Everyone on the trip/course must endeavour to stay 2 metres apart at all times
All participants are required to bring an ample personal supply of alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol, to have it on hand at all times, and to use it after any contact with any surface touched by another participant or IAG staff
Participants must not pass food or beverage to one another unless they are members of a cohabiting group
All participants and instructors/guides must supply their own masks and wear them at any time that there is a possibility of being closer than two metres from another participant or IAG staff who are not part of their cohabiting group

Classroom Settings

At time of the latest update of these practices (11 September, 2020) the plan for Avalanche Skills Training classroom sessions in the coming winter 20/21 will be to use very large spaces with small groups (room capacity 150 persons, class size 16 students) allowing for plenty of distancing between students
Masks must be worn at all times in classroom settings, or when indoors
If public health advice changes through the course of the winter make it impossible to run classroom sessions even in very large spaces, the classroom portions of courses will change to online learning while field sessions continue.

First Aid/Emergency Response and Evacuation Protocol

If a potential case of COVID-19 is discovered in the field, the following protocols should be followed: 

Where possible, evacuation of a person suspected of being infected with COVID-19 should be done using internal resources, not external.
The suspected infected person should be placed in quarantine until evacuation is possible
A deep clean of all common areas, transportation and equipment should happen immediately post-evacuation
Increased vigilance with personal hygiene and deep cleaning of all points of contact should occur during and after an evacuation
The subject should be managed and transported as directed in communications with health authorities
If unable to reach health authorities for direction from a remote location, transportation, where possible, should be to medical facilities closest to the home community of the subject if possible 
The subject must confirm with IAG if they tested positive for COVID-19 so an appropriate response can be initiated with other participants. Other participants should meanwhile immediately follow protocols for self-isolation until this information is known
IAG guides/instructors will carry additional masks and gloves in the first aid kit; use approved mask, gloves and eye protection for all first aid applications and dispose of mask and gloves after use
If rescue is required, ensure the subject is masked

Non-COVID-19 Evacuation Protocol

Groups should endeavour to self-evacuate injured participants and minimize use of public resources.

Minimizing COVID-19 Spread to Other Communities

IAG recommends that participants and IAG guides/instructors endeavour to avoid communities outside of their own by aiming to travel from home community to meeting point without stopping if possible
If stopping for gas is necessary we recommend using “pay at the pump” facilities and not going into any place of business in a community other than the person’s own

Post-trip Communication with Guides/Instructors

IAG will solicit feedback from guides/instructors regarding whether these best practices significantly impaired their ability to deliver a safe and enjoyable experience for their participants
If participant experience was negatively impacted IAG will revise plans as required

 Post-trip Communication with Participants

IAG will communicate with participants post trip/course to solicit feedback regarding whether they felt adequately protected from viral infection and whether these best practices negatively impacted their experience
Participants agree to contact IAG immediately if they experience any COVID-19 symptoms within 14 days of their trip/course

Equipment and PPE 

On camping trips all participants and guides/instructors must stay alone in a tent or with a person(s) with whom they have been cohabiting
All participants and guides/instructors must supply and cook their own meals or share meals and cooking only with a person(s) with whom they have been cohabiting
Before each trip, IAG will ensure all company owned soft goods (ropes, harnesses, slings, etc.) have either been isolated for a minimum of three days or have been washed in warm, soapy water
Before each trip IAG will ensure that all company owned hard goods (biners, ice axes, crampons, rock protection, avalanche safety gear, skis, ski poles, hiking poles etc.) have either been isolated for a minimum of three days or have been washed in warm, soapy water. For hard goods with no soft material or plastic, spraying with a dilute solution of bleach and water or a hospital grade bactericide/anti-virus followed by adequately drying is an acceptable alternative.

Things are Looking Up!

Posted on May 8, 2020

Finally it seems we have some light peaking over the horizon. Thanks to our collective efforts, we have reason to be cautiously optimistic that we have averted the worst case scenario and can slowly, and carefully emerge from our isolation.

Recently our Premier announced a phased plan for easing restrictions which includes our provincial parks reopening.

So is this a time to start thinking about trips into the wilderness? We think so! Indeed we think outdoor activities, in small groups and close to home here on the Island will be just the right thing to be doing. We know that time in nature is incredibly health giving and that the experiences we offer are just the thing that islanders need now for our mental and physical well-being.

Our priority is to make sure our trips operate in a way that is safe for you, our staff and our communities vis a vis the covid risk. To this end we have consulted with health authorities, our professional association and with BC College and University Outdoor Programs to establish the standards to which we will operate. With these standards in mind we've taken a detailed look at all of the trips and courses which we offer and we're pleased to say that there are plenty of trips that we can do.

With some modifications, our 3 Day Alpine Skills, Mountain Skills Fly-in, Women's Mountain Skills Fly-in, Mountain Improv, Wilderness Survival and Wilderness Navigation courses are all trips that we'll be comfortable offering from June 1st on. Whether we choose to get into helicopters on the dates planned for fly-in courses will depend on conditions at the time, but we can easily modify these trips to a walk-in location where roads take us to high enough altitude to allow for easy access to excellent mountain training locations. In addition we're happy to operate any of our hiking trips and are excited to be adding a new Mountain Travel course to our offerings. This course will have participants learning a whole range of skills on a beautiful alpine hiking traverse that will allow them to do these kinds of trips independently after the course.

We’ve put dates up on our web site for the trips mentioned above and a few others. If you do not see dates posted for a trip that you want to do, get in touch with us to discuss. If the trip or course you are proposing fits with current or forecast recommendations from public health authorities, we’ll work with you to choose dates and to post a trip for you and others to join. If you prefer to do things with just your cohabiting family or friends we can also organize custom trips.

We will not open up our rock climbing courses to mixed groups as yet because of the intensive touching of ropes and rock by everyone involved but we'd be happy to organize rock climbing for families or cohabiting groups. Just get in touch to discuss these options. We will closely monitor the situation and resume rock climbing programs for mixed groups as soon as public health advice suggests it's appropriate.

These are uncertain times. So despite our growing optimism regarding getting into the great outdoors with you again, we are going to adjust our cancellation policy to allow for unforeseen changes. If we are forced to reschedule or cancel trips or courses because of restrictive measures coming back into place due to a resurgence in the virus, everyone booked will be given the choice of rescheduling or receiving a credit. Additionally if you are not feeling well in the lead up to a trip, we'll insist that you do not participate and will make that easy for you by offering a full credit. These changes to our cancellation policy will allow everyone to dream and plan, but without financial risk.

We'll be sharing the details of our covid risk management plan with all participants pre-trip. If you'd like to receive this previous to booking a trip contact us and we'll send it out to you.

Things are indeed looking up, and so are we, toward our beautiful mountains here at home on Vancouver Island and to getting back out there with all of you!

Personal versus Societal Risk

Posted on Mar 26, 2020

As guides we are risk managers. That’s, at least in part, what we do. So we can’t help but look at the current pandemic through this lens.

We can look at the statistics and make judgements about the risks to ourselves: What are the chances that I’ll contract the virus? What is the likelihood that it will kill me? From this personal perspective the risks are relatively low for many of us.

But there’s another much larger dimension to managing this risk. It does not just impact us personally. Right now our actions can impact our families, our neighbours, our communities, our regions, our country and indeed the entire world.

When we take risks in the mountains they do have a farther reach than just ourselves. We can impact our families, our friends and the rescuers who may try to help us. But the scale of this impact still looks very small when compared to the multiplicative effect of a very contagious viral infection for which we have no medical recourse at present.

In the current risk management scenario EVERYBODY is a potential source and bearer of the risk. So our thinking needs become much larger in it’s scope. We move from the realm of the personal risk/reward decisions we make for ourselves to ETHICAL decisions that we must make because they impact EVERYONE on a local, regional, national and international scale.

All this to say, do the right thing. Now is the time that we may  have an opportunity to slow the spread of Covid 19. Listen to what the science is telling us. Stay at home, don’t congregate with others, period. And don’t engage in any activities riskier than walking which could put unnecessary burden on medical infrastructure that is certainly going to be overwhelmed.

At Island Alpine Guides what we are doing right now is staying put. We have halted operations completely. We are all staying at home. We want to be part of the solution to this problem and we want to act now to do that.

Eventually, if we can all pull together, we may manage to see our way through this thing. And we look forward to making our way back outside with all of our guests and students. We’ll do so with a whole new perspective on risk and on our interrelatedness to each other. We’ll appreciate every moment we have in nature and we’ll never forget how vulnerable we all can be.

We are in the process of reaching out to everyone who is currently booked on a course or trip with us. Given the fluidity of the situation, for now we'd like to address only trips booked between now and the end of April. We'll address trips booked for May a few of weeks before they are due to happen. Our goal, as much as possible, is to reschedule trips and courses to a later date rather than cancelling programs all together. But to be clear, anybody who feels in need of monies that they have paid for a course or trip with us will be given a refund regardless of timing with relation to our cancellation policy. We'd also ask anyone who has a cancellation insurance to check first whether that insurance might cover this situation rather than asking IAG to refund.

Take care of yourselves and each other. We can’t wait to get back outside with you!

Jan and the IAG team.

IAG Female POWer Photo Contest

Posted on Nov 22, 2019

You can't be what you can't see! Women and girls need to see themselves represented in sport and adventure. They need to see positive female role models, athletes and coaches in the media, in their communities and in their everyday lives. We want to encourage more women and girls to follow their dreams in winter sport and adventure.

We are looking for your best shots of you 'slaying pow' or otherwise being awesome in the snow. Show us your best female POWer photos for a chance to win….

The winner will receive a $100 gift certificate towards an IAG course of their choice AND we will provide a training scholarship to one female Student Ski Patroller at Mount Washington to help her further her career in the ski industry.

Before you enter, have a quick read through our contest rules….

RULES:
1) Enter by posting your photo as a comment, by entering you agree to these rules.
2) One winner will be selected from the top “liked’ photos by a panel of judges based on winter female POWer and photo quality
3) You must be clearly recognizable as a girl or woman in the photo(s)
4) The photo(s) entered must be of YOU. Can be taken by friends or family.
5) You may enter as many times as you like!
6) Trips and courses can only run if a minimum number of people register
7) If the trip or course that you wish to use your gift certificate towards, does not currently have any scheduled dates, we will endeavour to schedule a new trip based on your preference, but it will only go ahead with enough people registered to make it viable (based on our set group ratios)
8) Course or trip must be before Dec 31, 2020
9) Excludes heli-accessed and lodge-based trips
10) Participants agree that their photo(s) may be published online, with full credit given to the photographer, and used for promotions on our website and social media.
11) This contest is for fun and all judges decisions are considered final.

The winner will be chosen and announced on Friday Dec 6th, 2019. Good luck ladies!

Risk & responsibility

Posted on Oct 2, 2019

At the start of every one of our courses and trips the IAG guide presents participants with a waiver. For many this may seem like an inconvenience that's getting in the way of getting going with what they really came for: climbing, skiing, adventure!

But to us that waiver is much more than some paperwork to get out of the way. That waiver is actually the culmination of a longer process of Risk Communication; that we want to engage in with everyone who takes a course or trip with us.

Risk Communication is a catch phrase that describes how we, the guides/instructors and guiding company, share with our participants the risks that they may encounter while engaging in activities with us. Communicating these risks to participants is very important to us because we want our guests to participate with as complete an understanding as possible that what they are doing involves risks and hazards, and precisely what those risks and hazards are. We want people to come into these experiences with their eyes wide open; knowing what the potential "costs" of these activities are, so that they can measure these against the rewards that they are seeking from them and make a very conscious choice about whether to participate or not.

Many will say "oh you're just covering your butts." Indeed protecting ourselves legally is part of the motivation for using waivers. But for me personally, and I believe for all the guides and instructors who work at IAG, the motivation is more an ethical one. We want everyone who adventures in the outdoors with us to carefully consider the risks and rewards of these activities and to make informed, conscious choices around these. Ultimately that risk/reward equation, in my view, should be at the centre of all the risk decisions we make in our lives.

Recently we beefed up our risk communication to make sure that our website and our pre-trip information packages do as much as possible to communicate risk to our guests. Check out the new "Safety and Risk" and "Waiver" pages under the "About Us" section of our website. Also note the statements included with every trip or course description, and in every pre-trip information package.

Our hope is that despite the legality that is inevitable with waivers, at the core of our efforts is a desire to communicate risk effectively, and to have you participating in our programs making conscious risk decisions for yourself. It is our responsibility, ethically and as role models, to demonstrate what we believe is a sensible approach to risk decision-making in our lives. As one of our guides, Ken Wylie, puts it as he introduces waivers to participants at the start of a trip, “these are about our freedom, because with having freedom comes the responsibility of assuming risks knowingly and willingly."

Do get in touch if you have questions or comments. We welcome interested debate about this. And join us on an adventure soon. The wilderness offers so much scope for adventure and learning, along with some risk. Showing you ways to manage that risk is a big part of what we are about at IAG.