Gain an ice climbing perspective on avalanche skills and safety training with our AST 1 course for ice climbers.
Avalanche hazard is a serious threat to ice climbers in the Canadian Rockies. The vast majority of the Canadian Rockies ice climbing routes are exposed to avalanche hazards – often for extended periods. The simple fact that water flows and freezes in gullies make most ice climbing routes natural terrain traps. Climbing early in the season before the snow arrives may mean reduced avalanche exposure but can also lead to increased technical challenges on partially formed falls. To assist ice climbers with more risk management information, we developed an AST 1 course for ice climbers. Some of the avalanche related challenges facing the Rockies’ ice climber include:
•Complicated approach terrain requiring early starts
•Long exposure times climbing waterfalls threatened by an overhead hazard
•Potentially different snow and weather conditions affecting avalanche terrain above the route
•Climbing above cliffs, or between steep pitches on avalanche-prone terrain
•Rapid temperature changes that trigger avalanches and topple waterfalls
•Shallow and weak snowpack conditions that prevail most of the winter
Yamnuska Mountain Adventures has made the commitment to up our safe practice and lead the way in changing the culture of ice climbing safety in avalanche terrain. This is now our eighth season implementing the use of a transceiver, probe, and shovel while ice climbing in avalanche terrain. We have parameters in and around the use specifically related to the class of terrain and existing hazards. Basically, in avalanche terrain, when a hazard exists, all of our guides and ice climbing guests carry a transceiver, probe, and shovel. This is the same as we would do while backcountry skiing. Carrying this equipment is one thing, knowing how to use it is another!
It is not just long and challenging ice climbs that are exposed to avalanches. Even some popular top roping areas have exposure to avalanches on the approach or on certain lines. Assessing avalanche risk for an ice climb has many similar concepts to skiing, but in some cases, you are not able to do hands-on tests and need to rely on a variety of other inputs to make your decision regarding overhead hazards. Our AST 1 course for ice climbers will cover all of the regular AST 1 avalanche awareness training curriculum but focuses specifically on hazard assessment for ice climbing.
Thanks to our sponsors at K2 Skis and BCA who have generously donated gear and prizes, participants who take part in an Avalanche Safety Training course or Backcountry Ski public program before February 28, 2023, have the chance to win some incredible gear. So don’t wait…register now!
9:30 am in Canmore
Introductions, goals and objectives, agenda
- Avalanche phenomena, formation and characteristics of avalanches
- Avalanche Terrain Recognition for ice climbing, introduction to the Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale
- Changes in the mountain snowpack, snow metamorphism
- Lunch break
- Assessing and reducing risk
- Accessing and utilizing the Avalanche Danger Scale and Public Avalanche Bulletins
- Using the AvaluatorTM
- Safe travel and trip planning
- Companion Rescue: A methodical approach
- Logistics for the Field Day
- Class ends
Day 2 in Lake Louise, in the lower public parking lot for the lake by the public washroom.
- Meet, issue gear and introduce additional field day instructors
- Weather and avalanche bulletin group discussion
- Field observations (ongoing)
- Transceivers and companion rescue practice
- Managing risk in avalanche terrain (ongoing)
- Overhead hazard analysis and weather factors
- Route selection, hazard and terrain recognition (ongoing)
- Snowpit and stability tests for the ice climber
- Group rescue exercise
- Debrief and end of course
NOTE ON RISK: The course takes place in the backcountry in a winter environment. Conditions can be harsh and you need to be adequately dressed to enhance your comfort and learning. During the day we will be on the periphery of avalanche terrain however, we do limit our exposure to avalanches so that we can operate in the program area no matter what the avalanche danger is for that given day. All of our guides/instructors carry first aid kits and emergency communication. The course is designed to provide a good platform for learning and is not meant to be physically challenging or to put you at risk. Our focus is on instruction so we find appropriate avalanche study areas close to the road to maximize your avalanche education.
NOTE: Agenda may vary with field conditions and group abilities. It is important that you be properly equipped for a full day in the backcountry in winter conditions (see gear tab).
Instructors & Group Size
Yamnuska avalanche instructors are ACMG and IFMGA guides who are trained and certified by the Canadian Avalanche Association. They are true practitioners with years and in some cases, decades of experience in the backcountry, practicing what they preach. Yamnuska has been offering Avalanche courses since the late 1970s and we have been instrumental in the curriculum development of the AST programs. We are proud of our rich history in training recreationists in Canada.
On the field day, there is a maximum of 8 participants per instructor.
Canmore courses begin at 9:30 am on the first morning at the Yamnuska office in Canmore. Our office is located at 200, 50 Lincoln Park, Canmore Alberta. See print this map of the location. Please note that the field trip will be to Bow Summit, which is 120km west of Canmore.
To keep prices down participants are responsible for their own transportation. Canmore is a 1 hour (100km) drive west of Calgary.
If you are flying from afar for the program we suggest that you rent a car for your visit. In addition to getting you to the program locations, it will allow you to explore our region a bit after program hours. For example, you can visit Banff and enjoy the hot pools and sample the numerous restaurants. Frequent shuttles connect Calgary International Airport and Canmore.
Please note that program venues may be within National Parks and/or Kananaskis Country. For programs where transportation is not provided by Yamnuska/Canadian Rockies Hiking by Yamnuska, guests will be required to purchase their own pass.
National Park passes are available both online at https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/voyage-travel/admission and in-person at National park gates and some information centres.
Kananaskis Country conservation passes are available online at https://www.alberta.ca/kananaskis-conservation-pass.aspx
Accommodation and Meals
Accommodation in Canmore is not included. A variety of accommodation options exist in both Canmore and Banff, including campsites, hostels, all levels of hotels as well as condo-style accommodation with kitchens or suites. We recommend that you book your own pre and post-trip accommodations well in advance as all levels of accommodations in the Bow Valley fill quickly.
Food is not supplied. On the classroom day, we will take a one-hour break for lunch as well as several smaller breaks.
On the field day, it is important to have lots of snack-type high-energy foods as well as at least one litre of fluid. We highly recommend bringing a Thermos-type container for a hot drink. Due to the nature of the environment and winter temperatures, we will often ‘snack’ along the way and do not take an extended break for lunch.
Equipment & Clothing
First day in the classroom. This is an indoor session, dress casually and comfortably. Yamnuska supplies course manual, Companion Rescue Card, and AvaluatorTM. Please bring a pen and notebook if you wish to take notes. On the field day, Yamnuska will supply, upon request, an avalanche transceiver with batteries, an avalanche probe, and an avalanche shovel. We also supply group snow study kits and snow saw.
- Mountaineering/Ice Climbing Boots.
- Daypack (large enough for spare clothes, lunch & equipment, 30-litre minimum recommended)
- Avalanche transceiver – digital transceiver with a triple antenna. If you have an older type, single or double antennae, we will loan you a transceiver.
- Avalanche shovel (collapsible metal shovel designed for companion rescue), loaners available.
- Avalanche probe, loaners available
- Sunglasses and/or ski goggles
- Thermos flask and/or water bottle (1 – 2 Liters)
- Pocket knife
- Small Blister and Personal 1st-Aid Kit
- Hand Sanitizer
Yamnuska Mountain Adventures uses current state-of-the-art avalanche companion rescue gear on all of our courses. Please let us know in advance if you wish Yamnuska to provide you with an avalanche transceiver, probe, or shovel for the field day.
- Compass with clinometer
- Snow thermometer
Yamnuska supplies but feel free to bring anyway:
- Snow saw
- Snow Study Kit
On the field day, there can be prolonged periods of inactivity in very cold temperatures. Don’t be afraid to bring extra layers as we don’t travel great distances. We suggest bringing light clothing of varying thicknesses that can be ‘layered’ to achieve comfort and versatility. The most important consideration for clothing is the ability to regulate temperature as you change from periods of activity to periods of rest. Cotton clothing is not appropriate as it causes rapid heat loss when wet. Below is our recommended list:
Please call our office if you have any questions.
- Long Underwear (top and bottom). They should be synthetic such as Capilene or Merino Wool. Patagonia Capilene and Merino baselayers are good options.
- Warm pants (softshell, insulated, or fleece)
- Warm shirt (not cotton)
- Sweater or fleece jacket
- Insulated jacket or vest. This is essential for staying warm while taking breaks or when the weather gets really cold. The Patagonia Down Fitz Roy jacket is a good example of a warm insulated jacket.
- Waterproof jacket with hood and pants (Gore-Tex or nylon) A hardshell set up is essential when the weather turns really wet. Gore-Tex, H2NO or similar material works great. The Patagonia Torrentshell is a good example of a waterproof hardshell jacket.
- Socks (wool outer, synthetic blend liner). A good pair of socks goes a long way to preventing blisters.
- Wool or fleece hat that covers the ears
- Warm gloves and light glove liner
- Gaiters, only needed if your ski pants are not elasticized at the ankle
- Face Mask
Please book as early as practical to avoid disappointment. We require full payment on booking. As a leading avalanche course provider, our courses do fill quickly. Many people book the AST 1 and reserve a spot at the same time for the AST 2 later in the season.
It is wise to ensure that your health plan will cover you in case of illness or accident while here. Obtain extra coverage if necessary. There is no charge for a rescue so long as you have a valid National Park Entry Pass which you can obtain on entry to Banff National Park.
Please make yourself familiar with our detailed booking instructions and conditions.
Risk is an inherent part of all mountain activities. We strive to manage and reduce it however, it is impossible to totally eliminate. Learn more about our safety and risk management approach here. Please note that you will be required to sign our waiver before commencing the program. Please view our sample waiver copy.
There are two basic types of insurance that most travellers need to consider: Medical and Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance. We offer our guests coverage for both and highly recommend you purchase it.
Emergency Medical Expenses Insurance:
It is wise to ensure that your health plan will cover you in case of illness or accident during your trip. Obtain extra coverage if necessary. There is no charge for rescue in the national and provincial parks, however, costs such as air or ground transportation, long-term care, and other services are not covered.
Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance:
We recognize that our guests’ schedules may change for many reasons; business, family, flight delays, injuries, and other unplanned events. For these eventualities, Trip Cancellation/Interruption insurance is a great way to protect your investment.
For all your travel insurance requirements we recommend the Simpson Group. This agency offers a wide range of travel insurance options including Trip Cancellation/Interruption, Travel Medical, and Personal Effect Loss for Canadian Travelers. We highly recommend purchasing this insurance. For more information and to purchase a plan, visit the Simpson Group’s website.
Please note that this coverage is for Canadian residents only. For guests who are not from Canada and who are interested in the ‘Visitors to Canada’ insurance package please contact the Simpson Group directly at JSimpson@simpson-group.com and reference your Yamnuska Mountain Adventure trip.
$275 CDN includes instruction, classroom materials, and avalanche safety equipment. You will need to bring adequate clothing and equipment for the field day. GST is extra.
Special: Book an AST 1 and AST 2 at the same time and receive a 10% discount on both programs! The discount for the AST 2 does NOT apply for the AST 2 based at Purcell Lodge.
Trip Cancellation Insurance is available through the Simpson Group.
Please note you will be required to sign the Yamnuska Release of Liability, and Waiver of Claims prior to commencing the program. Please review the sample waiver prior to booking and call us with any questions.
Is it for you?
The focus of this program is avalanche theory and instruction via Avalanche Canada’s avalanche skills training curriculum. Our first day will be in the classroom in Canmore learning about the conditions and physics that lead to avalanches. This is a full and intensive day. The second day will be a field trip to a backcountry ice climbing location. Students must have a normal level of fitness.
Participants must be a minimum of 16 years of age and able to provide their own transportation. Otherwise, individuals 14-16 years of age may attend when accompanied by a participating parent or guardian.
This course is two days of intensive learning. The first day is classroom-based and the second is in the backcountry learning and practicing skills. It is a fast-paced course with a curriculum developed by Avalanche Canada and refined by Yamnuska. Upon completion of the course, you will receive an Avalanche Skills Training 1 Certificate. The AST1 is the prerequisite for the professional level Avalanche Operations Level 1.
Advanced Avalanche Training and Theory
This course is the prerequisite for our Avalanche Skills Training 2 advanced course. If you are a backcountry skier/border, you can join us for this comprehensive 4-day program which includes one day of advanced theory and three days of backcountry touring. We offer this four-day program based out of Canmore once in January, once in February and over two consecutive weekends in March. We also offer this program in Roger’s Pass for those who are intermediate/advanced backcountry skiers/boarders.
Further reading and theory: We are now offering the AST 2 text for sale on our AST 1 programs. If you would like to have a reference manual that goes into more depth about the theory behind why avalanches occur, you can purchase the “Staying Alive In Avalanche Terrain” book by Bruce Tremper for an additional $30. Please let us know when you register if you would like this option as supplies are limited.