Culturally, it has not been the norm for ice climbers to carry companion rescue gear and most climbers used recognition and avoidance as their mitigation for avalanche risk while climbing ice.
Several years ago, our operations team at Yamnuska started talking about why ice climbers didn’t carry the gear even though we were often in avalanche terrain. The standard defense from climbers was that “they wouldn’t be there if they thought there was a significant risk plus the gear is too heavy”. Both excuses were not very strong given the weight of consequence in an avalanche incident and we felt the need for a change.
Two years ago we made the commitment to up our safe practice and lead the way in changing the culture of safety gear for ice climbing in avalanche terrain. This is now our second year implementing the use of a beacon, 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 hazard. Basically, in avalanche terrain, when a hazard exists, all of our guides and ice climbing guests carry a beacon, 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.
Last year we were the only Mountain School to implement this additional layer of safety. At Yamnuska we are not only committed to teaching best practice, we are also committed to leading the way in how we all think about safety in the mountains. As Canada’s oldest Mountain School we will continue to lead the way while we look to set and adopt the highest standards for our industry.
Director of Operations
CAA Level 3