Finally, Island ATES.

Posted on Jan 10, 2012

As our readers may know avalanche skills training is gaining popularity quite quickly in mountainous western Canada. In fact Canada can now claim to having the most successful recreational avalanche training system in the world. This even includes all of those densely populated European alpine countries. This growth in western Canada has also been seen here on Vancouver Island. Over the past five years Island Alpine Guides has met the growing demand for avalanche training with high quality avalanche courses taught by the islands most experienced mountain professionals. As a result we have become the go to avalanche course provider for just about 100% of individuals and institutions here on the island.

On our courses we are giving people some excellent statistically based tools to assist them in making decisions in avalanche terrain. One of these is the Avaluator Trip Planner. This tool allows the user to cross reference the forecast avalanche danger from an avalanche bulletin with the severity of the terrain on a selection of trips so that they can choose a trip given the current and forecast avalanche conditions that falls within the level of risk that they are comfortable with.

The Avalanche Danger Scale is an international five point scale, details of which are easily found on the avalanche bulletin web site at or on the Canadian Avalanche Centre web site at

The Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale (ATES) was developed by Parks Canada to help backcountry users assess the severity of the terrain encountered in a given trip. It has three terrain classes that describe the exposure of terrain to potential avalanche hazard. ATES ratings are compiled by professionals who consider eleven weighted terrain parameters in ranking a trip or tour as Simple, Challenging, or Complex. Which finally brings us to what this blog is really about: We have finally managed to make some time to start rating some island trips! You’ll find the first ones that we have done at the island avalanche bulletin web site at the ATES Trip Planning page. Have a look and send us your feedback. Plan your trips carefully and keep checking the site for additions to the list of ATES rated island trips. Also please let us know which island trips interest you so that we know which ones to rate next.

Happy trails!


AST2 vs ITP1 ... acronyms!

Posted on Dec 14, 2011

The Avalanche Skills Training Two may be better for you than the professional level one.

With about 250 students a year coming through our avalanche training programs we start to see some trends in our students’ motivations and objectives. One of the subjects we address quite often is the role of the Canadian Avalanche Association Industry Training Program (CAA ITP) for recreationists interested in avalanche training. For many people, having done an avalanche skills training one, they believe that the logical next step is to carry on to a professional level one course. For most of the people who ask us about this the answer is actually that this is not the best next move.

First of all let’s deal to all the acronyms! The AST program is the Avalanche Skills Training Program which has been developed by the Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC) to train winter recreationists to make good decisions in avalanche terrain. The CAA ITP is the Industry Training Program developed by the Canadian Avalanche Association to train avalanche technicians working in avalanche hazard control operations.

Most recreational ski tourers, sledders, snow shoers and snowboarders take avalanche training because they want to be better equipped to make good decisions when they are traveling in avalanche terrain. They recognize that the environment that they choose to recreate in has inherent hazards and that they need to learn how to manage these for themselves.

At the highest levels an avalanche forecaster also manages risk in avalanche terrain but typically he/she is taking responsibility not only for themselves but for clients (if they are a guide), a ski area (if they are forecasting for a commercial ski mountain) or human structures (if they are for example in highways avalanche control). To get to this level the professional avalanche forecaster undergoes a lengthy process of training, mentoring and field experience that lasts for many years. The ITP Level One is the entry level of that process. As an apprentice avalanche technician the student on these courses learns the skills they will need to work under an experienced forecaster primarily in a data collection role. The emphasis here is on taking weather, snowpack and avalanche observations to a professional standard with the decision making being done experientially under supervision while working as an apprentice after having taken the ITP Level One.

The Avalanche Skills Training Two on the other hand is designed for recreationists that want to go out into the mountains and make decisions. Your valuable time is not spent on professional standard observations and all the attendant hieroglyphics! Instead on an AST2 we spend a lot of our time in the snow, practicing skills that will help you in planning your trips and making decisions while you are out on those trips. Simply stated this course is designed for recreational decision makers who are keen to take their decision making to the next level.

So what I am getting at here is this: If you want to become a professional avalanche forecaster and are looking to get a job as an apprentice in this field, then take the ITP Level One course. The skills you will learn will allow you to apprentice under a forecaster as you progress slowly toward becoming a forecaster yourself. The focus will not be so much on decision making as on data collection. If on the other hand you are wanting to spend time in the mountains recreating and want skills to make decisions right now, then the AST2 is the logical next step. It is also worth noting that the AST2 is typically a four day course that costs about $500 whereas the ITP Level One is seven to eight days long and costs about three times that much. Before spending that amount of money it would be worth your while to consider exactly what your objectives are in taking the course and which course is a better fit.

If you are considering moving on to the next level of avalanche skills training and have questions about your options, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re always happy to answer questions.

The Avalanche Bulletin & You

Posted on Nov 17, 2011

As some of my readers know, I wear a number of hats, especially in the winter time. Guiding for Island Alpine Guides as well as running the company, guiding and running operations at Pantheon Heli Skiing in the Mount Waddington area and avalanche forecasting and running operations for the Vancouver Island Avalanche Bulletin. It is the last of these roles that I want to write about in this blog because I have a proposal for you to get involved that is both about the bulletin but also about your avalanche education.

One of the more common questions I hear about the Vancouver Island Avalanche Bulletin is “ how do you guys get the data to write your forecasts?”. The answer in short is this: twelve weather stations situated all around the mountainous parts of Vancouver Island, field observations from Island Alpine Guides instructors and guides working on courses and trips, field observations from bulletin forecasters on dedicated data gathering field trips, field observations from other avalanche forecasters working in the field on the island (for example those working on Mount Washington’s avalanche control program) and field observations from recreationists who are doing trips in the island mountains.

The last of the data sources above is the one I want to talk about: it’s you! And I don’t want you to think of this just as a call for information, it is more than that, it’s an opportunity for a partnership.

As anyone who has embarked on avalanche education knows, the learning process in the avalanche world is a complex and a long one. It involves formal training (AST1, AST2, ITP1, ITP2 etc.) and it requires real field experience and mentorship ..... a lot of it. In fact as a portion of the process of becoming a competent recreationist in avalanche terrain or an avalanche professional, formal training plays a very small role and experience and mentorship will take up much, much more of your time. We, the forecasters at the avalanche bulletin, can help you accelerate that process. Every time you send us your observations of avalanche activity, weather, snow quality, snowpack etc.. from your trips into the mountains we’ll likely come back to you with questions. These questions will refine the information that we are getting from you to make it more useful data for the bulletin. But these questions will also highlight for you what you should be looking for when you are out there and will refine your observation skills and decision making over time. As a continual feed back loop this interaction will get more and better data for the bulletin over time and will move you along in your learning process toward whatever goals you have in the avalanche realm be they to become a solid recreational decision maker in avalanche terrain or to pursue a career in the avalanche world.

Whether you have just taken an AST1 course and are embarking on the learning journey or if you are a professional apprentice (ITP1), we can help you develop your skills, and in the process you’ll be increasing the quality of the data stream that the bulletin has available making our forecasts better all the time.

So get involved! head out on lots of trips in the mountains this winter and send us an email when you get back. We’ll be sure to respond and we’ll start a relationship that has you helping out your bulletin and getting something back for your own learning all at once!

Looking forward to hearing from you!


Greetings from the Himalaya!

Posted on Oct 14, 2011

Greetings from the Himalaya! I’m in Nepal again, as I usually am about once a year these days, and I must say it is good to be back. As some of my readers will know this place was home for me in a previous life and while I am so happy to be living on Vancouver Island now I must say it is always good to reconnect with this amazing part of the world.

I’m off to Kanchenjunga in a couple of days to explore the remote north eastern corner of Nepal. It promises to be both visually stunning and culturally fascinating. But I have to say that as I visit old friends here I find myself showing them photographs of the mountains at home with a sense of pride. Not only do we have remote and beautiful mountains on Vancouver Island, we have something rarely found in this part of the world: true wilderness. Our peaks may not be as high as the Himalaya but they are certainly remote and uniquely beautiful and the good news is that most people do not even know that we have mountains on Vancouver Island so they are all ours to explore in solitude.

It’s warm here in Kathmandu (mid to high twenties by day) but soon we’ll be in the high country with temperatures dipping well below freezing at night. It’ll make good training for coming home to winter. Ah winter! I love the onset of winter on the west coast with the first snow on the peaks in November and dreams of skiing to come. You may remember that last winter we were out skiing great low density powder in November. Let’s hope for some more of that this year! I am really looking forward to the start of the ski guiding season, teaching avalanche courses and forecasting for the Island Avalanche Bulletin.

I hope that you are looking forward to winter too and that we’ll see you on a trip or course this winter. Get in touch to let us know your plans or if you want route information or conditions up dates. Similarly if you are traveling in the mountains and have conditions information to share please get in touch via our contact page and we’ll pass the information along with our observations and others to the readers of this space.

I’ll be updating you with news for the winter when I get back to Canada in November. In the meantime enjoy your autumn and Namaste!


New IAG site!

Posted on Sep 15, 2011

I’m very excited about the look and function of the new IAG web site. The intent of the design is to highlight what an incredible place we live in here on Vancouver Island and to give the visitor to the site a bit of a feel for each of the destinations of our varied trips. We have been immersed in this project with Trigger Communications for some time now so some objective input from you would certainly be appreciated. Please send us your opinions about how the site looks and works for you or anything about it that you care to share with us. Use our contact form or email me directly at [email protected]. And please be aware that the site is brand new and may well have some things to work out. Your patience and your feedback is much appreciated! 

Soon IAG will enter it’s fifth year of serving Vancouver Island’s mountain recreation and education needs. While I have been guiding in these Island Alps for about twenty years, it was not until 2007 that we decided to formalise things and start IAG. And here we are entering our fifth year thinking “the timing was about right”. We’ve grown considerably every year since we started and are looking strong into the future as Vancouver Island’s premiere mountain school and guide service. Our growth to now has been thanks almost exclusively to you people right here on the island who keep coming back on more courses and trips with us and sending your friends. Looking into the future we certainly intend to keep meeting the needs of our fellow islanders right here in the island alps. We’ll also start to expand into the wider world of adventure travel by offering exciting multi sport adventure holidays to new guests from off the island. The result will be further growth and success for IAG and bringing new tourism dollars onto the island. 

Some of you may be asking “where is the Vancouver Island Mountain Conditions Report (VIMCR)?”. Well it’s not gone but it will take a different form. The fact is that the spammers and hackers were getting the better of our VIMCR on the old web site and maintaining it in the face of their onslaught became unmanageable. So this blog will become, amongst other things, our new VIMCR. When an IAG guide returns from a trip and has information to share they’ll do that via this blog. Similarly if you have observations of routes, conditions or access we encourage you to send them to us and we’ll include them in this blog. This will allow us to “moderate” the information to ensure that the spammers are kept at bay and that the information our users want is always available and useful. We'll also be linking to the popular Vancouver Island Avalanche Bulletin soon. 

I hope that you’ll have a cruise around the new site and get in touch with your feed back. I also hope to see you on a trip this summer and look for some exciting new developments coming in the winter. 

Happy trails everyone!