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….

  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.

Beyond the alpine

Posted on Jul 4, 2017
Calling my company Island Alpine Guides was perhaps a bit of a mistake.

Sure, I spend most of my time climbing and skiing in the mountains, from the Rockies to the coast range, from the European Alps to the Himalaya. So 11 years ago, when Island Alpine Guides was born, it seemed logical to keep doing what we've been doing all over the world right here on Vancouver Island: mountaineering and skiing in our magnificent Island Alps.
The Island Alps have not disappointed; they are a uniquely beautiful range of mountains that offer wilderness, solitude, and adventure, rivalling what any mountain range in the world can offer.
So why the regrets about the company name? Simply because this island offers so much more than mountains. Our jewel in the Pacific is blessed with long stretches of coastline that are intensely wild and stunningly beautiful, which offer incredible scope for adventure.
It's not as if we've been neglecting to explore these coastlines over the years; Island Alpine Guides has been wandering on the shores of the north coast, Nootka Sound, the Hesquiat Peninsula and the Juan de Fuca since we began. My lamenting is more around our branding. Our name suggests that we are a mountain school and guide service for the alpine, that we are only about climbing and skiing in the high places of the Island Alps and the BC Coast Range. We are certainly about that, and have seen a lot of success as the Island's only service with Association of Canadian Mountain Guides certified guides and instructors. However I think this branding has limited our reach and that we could be doing much more to get islanders, and folks from beyond our shores, out into our wild coastal places.
Nootka, North Coast and Juan de Fuca are all trails you've no doubt heard about and perhaps even explored already, but did you know we offer guided hikes through these trails, including arranging all necessary water taxis, float planes, and/or shuttles? All your meals are taken care of, and we can even provide camping equipment free of charge, such as tent and thermarest, if you need it (which is great for out-of-town visitors).
Jump in on our upcoming Juan de Fuca Trail hike on July 21-24, or get in touch to set up a new trip on any of our coastal hikes this summer.

Staying alive

Posted on Oct 24, 2016
I’ve been skiing in avalanche terrain for more than 30 years. This winter will mark 22 years of heli ski guiding, a pursuit which has us skiing in uncontrolled avalanche terrain with a greater frequency than any other.

 I’ve been reflecting on the risks associated with such a high level of exposure, and I’d like to share with recreational backcountry riders certain aspects of how we do this game professionally, which will also be useful to recreational riders.

 The main things I wish to highlight are a methodical planning process, keen observation, and humility.

 I’ve discussed the need for humility and self-awareness in previous blogs, and Ken Wylie has written eloquently about the human element in decision making (here and here). So it is the other two points that I want to focus on this time: a methodical planning process and keen observation.

 In the professional ski guiding world, we use a very structured approach to our decision making. Guides will follow a defined set of steps to assess current and forecasted hazards, and will choose terrain with an acceptable level of risk. We will typically have a plan B and even a plan C as far as terrain choice if information in the field suggests we need to make adjustments to our original plan. Weather assessment is also crucial, as is the consideration of other hazards such as glaciers, creeks, the group’s abilities, etc.

 I’ve developed a trip planning tool that provides a structure for recreational backcountry riders to plan their own tours. You can download it here.

 If you’ve done an AST1 or AST2 course, the planning tool should look pretty familiar: most of it is covered in the AST1 curriculum. Having said that, there are some valuable tricks to learn when using a planning process like this. A great place to learn them is on our AST Plus course. On this single-day course, you’ll go through a morning meeting using this tool to plan your day. Then you’ll spend a full day touring, applying the plan in the field and learning at every opportunity (while getting some sweet turns in!). The day concludes with a structured debrief to leverage maximum learning and experience. The goal is to show you a template for how to organize your backcountry touring days in a way that manages risk and maximizes fun while also getting full value from the day in terms of building your experience in the backcountry.

 Finally, there's the importance of keen observation. The bottom line on this is that you can plan as meticulously as you like (and indeed you should), but none of this planning will be of any use if you are not verifying or refuting your predictions when you get into the field for the day. This means you need to be a keen observer. Is there more or less new snow than you expected? Has the wind been blowing from the direction you thought it had been? Are you seeing signs of instability in the snow? Is it warming up more than you thought it would and is this affecting the feel of the snow? The list of questions is endless and it’s your job to be asking them, having your senses turned on at all times so that you can make adjustments to your plan as required.

 If this all sounds a bit exhausting, don’t worry. At first it may seem like a lot to think about, but over time, it all becomes a habit and part of your normal routine when riding in the backcountry. With the hazards in the backcountry being what they are – and death being a potential outcome of bad decisions – I don’t think the alternative to good planning, keen observation and humility is an option!

 Our first avalanche course of the season is already fully booked and the second one has just a few spots remaining. We have a number of other trips scheduled that still have space, and we are always ready to hear from you if you have other dates in mind that we are not yet offering, especially if you have a group of people who are interested in a certain date. Get in touch with us at any time if so.

 Get stoked! Sliding on the snow is just around the corner.

 Jan and the team at Island Alpine Guides