Spring Time!

Posted on Apr 18, 2013

I love Spring. This is the time of the year that all my favourite activities are possible at the same time. As an Islander I think of everything from Mount Waddington to Bella Coola as part of my back yard. So this week I am in Bella Coola enjoying dry powder and superlative mountain landscapes here in my back yeard. I’ll be posting a short montage of photos and video on the Island Alpine Guides Facebook page shortly so you can see how amazing spring skiing in our magnificent coastal ranges can be.

Next I’m off to Red Rocks Nevada for some desert rock and then straight back to the island for heli accessed ski touring. After that it’s the start of our alpine climbing season plus we’re skiing steep lines on Mount Arrowsmith and getting a whole bunch of people started rock climbing and lead climbing on rock.

Here are some of the things that we have coming up soon that still have space on them:

One Day Intro Rock Climbing 21 April

Arrowsmith Spring Ski Lines 11 May

One Day Crevasse Rescue 18 or 19 May

Juan de Fuca Trail 25-28 May

West Buttress of Rambler Peak 4-7 June

Three Day Alpine Skills Course 8-10 June

Of course these are just a few of the possibilities for trips that people have already started and which still have space for others to join. If you are not finding what you are after above you can cruise around our web site and pick the perfect trip for you. Then get in touch and let us know the dates that you want to do the trip on and we’ll post it on our web site so that others will join you. Or of course you always have the option to hire one of our super experienced guides and instructors for a custom course or trip just for you or you and your friends and family.

Have a great spring and be in touch!

Jan and the crew at Island Alpine Guides

Trip Planning Resources 2

Posted on Feb 19, 2013

As a follow up to my recent blog on weather resources I’ve had some requests for some more trip planning resources but this time with more emphasis on terrain and mapping. So here we go:

It was not that long ago that when we were planning trips from a terrain perspective the resources that we had were a 1:50,000 topo map and perhaps a vaguely written guidebook description if the place you were going to was not that obscure (anyone remember the “Fairley Accurate Guide”?). Oh my how we would stare at the spaces between those contour lines and try to visualize what we were in for! Well the skills required to imagine those trips using a topo map are no less important now than they were then, but we do have some amazing new resources that make trip planning easier and more accurate than it has ever been.

On the mapping front here are a couple of my current favourites:

http://www.earthdetails.com allows you to access canadian topo maps for anywhere in the country and search by place name or coordinates. Additionally it allows you to tilt the map from a ground view perspective all the way to a traditional overhead map view and it will model the terrain in relief for you at whatever angle you choose. You can also zoom in and out as well as measure distances and bearings between points and you can print in full colour.

The Canadian Atlas On line at http://atlas.nrcan.gc.ca/site/english/toporama/index.html gives you access to topo maps for the entire country directly from the source, the Government of Canada. This on line tool allows you to zoom in and out down to a scale of 1:15,000 and includes more detail than the earth details maps mentioned above. It also allows you to print in full colour and both of these sites allow you to work across traditional map sheet boundaries so that you are not having to tape together four maps when the place you are going to is at the corners!

Another amazing modern tool is of course Google Earth. A few years ago I could not have imagined being able to “fly” through terrain that I had never seen in my life and actually get a sense of it that would resemble the reality that I would encounter when I actually arrived there. I have used this ability numerous times in my work as a heli skiing guide exploring new terrain and I have to say it is a very powerful tool. Additionally you can of course measure distances on google earth and overlay all manner of tracks and routes from your GPS device amongst a host of other functions.

My joking above about the acccuracy of guide books aside, there is no replacement for first hand info from people who have actually travelled to a location. This can take many forms but here are a few:

Wild Isle Publciations - Quadra Islander Philip Stone has done an amazing job compiling his books Island Alpine, Island Turns and Tours and Coastal Hikes. No Island back country enthusiasts library is complete without these volumes. There are of course many good guide books for the coast ranges and indeed ranges as far as you might go. Check out Phil's books here: http://wildisle.ca/books/index.html

First hand accounts - There is no end to the fora on line on which you might find good trip reports. http://www.summitpost.org and http://www.clubtread.com are just a couple. A little more island specific one to check out is the Island Climbing and Mountaineering Facebook page. These many sites can be of great use but a word of caution is in order. The info on unmoderated sites includes everything from entries from very experienced or even professional authors all the way to, well, folks that perhaps have a little less experience.

Speaking of professional advice why not use your local resource for info? We are in a small enough community here on Vancouver Island that to date my offers to give people route beta and terrain advice have not been so overwhelming that we can’t handle them so get in touch. We love to help.

I’ll finish with one last site that I hope will become a bit of a portal for useful Island info. That is the new Island Alpine Guides Facebook page. I hope that you might visit that and post comments on trips or courses you have done with us and/or route or conditions info of trips you have done.

Finally we have some cool things coming up. Here are some examples:

AST1 Mount Washington, 23/24 February. This may well be our last public AST1 for the season and it has just five spots available at time of writing.

AST2 Mount Cain, 22-25 February. This course is a special AST2 designed for people who have done a fair bit of decision making in avalanche terrain. If you fit that description and have been wanting to take your decision making to the next level, we have two spots available on this course.

Mount Washington Back Country, 02 March - We have two spots open on a guided day of back country. Snowboarders or skiers are welcome.

Life After AST, 09 March - We have two spots open on this professional guide facilitated day that makes the perfect bridge from your Avalanche Skills Training to getting out touring on your own.

We’re also already starting to book up rock climbing and mountain skills courses for the spring so get in touch if you are starting to think about climbing.

Have fun and be safe out there!

Jan and the team at Island Alpine Guides

What a Party!

Posted on Jan 29, 2013

The Fifth Annual Party for the Bulletin happened last Friday and what a party it was! You came out in droves in support of your bulletin and a great time was had by all. There are many superlatives that we could use to describe the night: best vibe ever, awesome music line up, great beer and dancing, best silent auction ever etc. etc.

The sponsors who made this all happen are to many to list here but some need to be mentioned: Tyax Lodge Heli Skiing, Ski Tak Hut, Mount Washington Volunteer Patrol, Island Alpine Guides, Mount Washington Alpine Resort, Valhalla Pure Outfitters Nanaimno, the Riding Fool Hostel, Elan Skis and Back Country Access were all very generous. Check out the bulletin site in coming days for a full list of all the great folks who contributed this year.

Also a big shout out to all the bands that played this years event. PK, Old Soul with Brodie Dawson and the Paisley Bandits all out on great shows. If you liked what they did and appreciate that they played for free for your bulletin, like their facebook pages and help them out!

But the big thank you goes to all of you who keep this bulletin going. We have a unique and special grass roots thing going on here on the island which is unlike any other bulletin in the country and of which we can be proud.

Remember that our next event is the Back Country Festival happening at Mount Cain 9/10 February. This will be a super fun and educational week end. Check it out here: http://vanislebackcountryfest.ca/

While I have your attention I may as well tell you about some things that we have coming up at Island Alpine Guides that may be of interest:

6-9 February - Back Country Performance

9 February - Mount Washington Back Country

15/16 February - AST1 Mount Cain

17 February - Life After AST Mount Cain

23/24 February - AST1 Mount Washington

02 March - Mount Washington Back Country

02 March - Life After AST Mount Washington

We are also booking spring peak ascents (Rambler and Elkhorn) as well as multi pitch learn to lead rock courses already. Check out our web site or get in touch for more details.

Enjoy yourselves out there!

Jan and the team at Island Alpine Guides

Watching the Weather

Posted on Oct 18, 2012

Have you been watching the weather? I certainly have. In my profession you always do! Though I know that skiing powder is still a little ways off I can tell you that it looks like we’ll be seeing some snow in the Island Alps this week end.

Watching the approach of the ski and snowboard season got me thinking about how many of you ask me which sources I use for weather both to know what has happened recently and to make forecasts. Of course with the internet these days the publicly available informations is incredible. I remember “back in the day” when we were running a helicopter skiing operation in the Himalayas, we had to set up our own satellite system to bring down a few pictures to make our crude weather predictions. It’s gone way beyond that now and though I have access to some stuff professionally with the avalanche centre that I can not share with you, there is so much in the public realm that you would be hard pressed to run out of interesting stuff to look at!

To see what has been happening in the island weather the BC Hydro Hydromet Data site  provides real time temperatures and precipitation as well as winds at some sites. Of particular interest is the Wolf River station (WOL on the map). This one is at tree line elevation at about 1450m. The geographical spread of the other locations will give you a good idea of the variation in precipitation amounts found on different parts of the island. The standard Environment Canada web site also has historical data that you can access. On the page of the location that you are interested in scroll down to the “Historical Data” section at the bottom of the page and click on the “More Info” and then “Historical Weather”. You can look at daily values over a  month or click on a particular day and look at hourly data for that day. Be aware that for many stations the data will only come up to about twelve hours or more previous.

For making weather predictions mountainweatherservices.com is a great portal for everything mountain weather. Check out their links page and from there the Education Other page. The latter includes amazing educational resources to help you understand the incredible array of possibilities which meteorologist Uwe Graman is offering on this comprehensive mountain weather site. A few of my favourites are the MM5 precipitation models, the satellite pictures and the various aviation weather resources.

A more crude yet simple site is snow-forecast.com. The information on this site is all generated by one computer model. You ned to be aware that larger scale models like this one are crude in the way that they model terrain and that different models will give you different predictions as to what will happen in the weather. If you rely only on one model you will often get your predictions wrong. Better to compare a number of models and see where they agree and disagree. To compare many models at once I have become aware of a fantastic new site at spotwx.com. Enter a location name or coordinates, or use the map to choose your location and the then click on one of a number of models to see their outputs for that location. The map even shows you where the grid from each model sits on the map. Thanks to meteorologist Mort Allingham for turning me on to this site.

Finally if your time is limited, you don’t really want to be a weather geek and/or you don’t mind waiting for more snow to fly, then just check in with the Island Avalanche Bulletin at islandavalanchebulletin.com. As avalanche forecasters we do all the work for you in looking at the resources I have mentioned above and many more to bring you not only a forecast of avalanche hazard but also detailed weather predictions and descriptions of how these will affect conditions in the mountains.

I’d love to hear your feedback and questions on the above. Drop me a line at [email protected] to share your thoughts.

Keep your fingers crossed for dry pow soon!

Jan and the team at Island Alpine Guides

Winter Stoke!

Posted on Sep 13, 2012

Winter is around the corner and I am stoked!


I know that for some people there is sadness associated with the cooler nights and the shorter days at this time of year. But for me there is a building excitement. Why? Because I love to ski! Despite almost twenty years of ski guiding for a living and more than fourty five winters on skis and snowboard, I still love it. Sure we still have some beautiful autumn weather coming and rock climbing courses and mountain trips to do, but I am starting to feel the winter stoke none the less.

I am going into this winter with as much enthusiasm as any. I’ve got some great Island and mainland ski touring planned, a bunch of heli skiing as always and I know that we will be as busy as ever training people in avalanche and winter mountain skills.

On the training front I am excited about a couple of new offerings for this winter. Both of these courses come out of clearly demonstrated needs as expressed by our guests, students and staff. Here they are:

Life After Avalanche Skills Training


For many people making the step from their avalanche skills training to actually getting out touring in the back country is a bit daunting. This course is designed just for that. The idea was actually developed by some of our students and the results have been spectacular. Spend a day with a super experienced ski guide as they facilitate a trip planning session followed by a full day of student led, guide facitlitated touring in avalanche terrain and a structured debrief to end the day. Students will gain the confidence to plan and execute their own trips as well as a ton of local knowledge about their touring destinations. We will offer these courses predominantly at Mount Washington and Mount Cain, but we’ll also be happy to do them in more remote backcountry locations either as two day courses or in a single day with helicopter access.

Ski Performance for Backcountry


A lot of people are thinking about getting into the backcountry these days. The numbers on our avalanche courses are a good indication of that! But for many people, the thing that they know they need to work on is their skiing, especially in natural snow conditions. That's why we've developed this program. Three, two and a half hour, low ratio sessions with a high end ski instructor are followed by a day of off-piste backcountry with our certified guides. While natural conditions ski technique is the emphasis, terrain choice, a basic introduction to avalanche safety and many other relevant skills are covered. The goal is to set you up perfectly to succeed in the backcountry.

Check these new offerings as well as a bunch of other cool stuff on our web site and do get in touch if you have any questions or want to book a program.

Stay tuned for snow, but do do let us know if you have some goals in the mountains or on rock yet this autumn!

Jan and the team at Island Alpine Guides