One of the most common questions we get asked from guests who are new to the mountains is, “Can you guarantee my safety?” The short answer is no, we cannot.
All mountain activities have some level of risk. It is impossible to totally remove risk from mountain activities. We strive to manage and reduce the hazards that we are exposed to however, we cannot completely eliminate the risk.
A good guide is not just a professional skier or climber. The task they are most focused on is identifying hazards and managing risk to an acceptable level. This, as you can imagine, is a complex task that is done in a dynamic and often hostile environment. There is always a balance between meeting objectives without overly exposing people to high-risk factors.
Almost everyone has a different tolerance for risk. Someone new to the mountains may have a tolerance that is quite below that of someone who has been climbing or skiing for years. For instance, a school program or an introductory program may be operated with a very low tolerance for risk. A private guided day with someone who has a relationship with the guide and who has been in the mountains for years may have a more difficult objective albeit with a greater risk. Both can be done in a relatively safe manner but there is less room for error when there is greater risk acceptance.
There is a responsibility that comes with being in the mountains. This is shared between guides and guests and it is the responsibility of everyone to articulate what level of risk they are willing to take. If one doesn’t understand nor is able to readily identify the hazards this may be difficult to do and then it is up to the guide to explain the hazards and the risk management of such hazards. We all need to think about what our risk acceptance is and how we convey that to each other. If anyone feels that the risk is unacceptable, they need to speak up and let that be known. Typically speaking, the more uncertainty we are faced with the greater the risk appears.
Hazards in a mountain environment are a given. What we do and how we communicate risk management is integral to staying within our risk acceptance. This is a conversation that starts in trip planning and continues through to the end of the trip. Smart and informed decision making doesn’t guarantee safety, but it does make us safer.
For more details on our approach to safety and risk management please continue below:
At Yamnuska Mountain Adventures we approach risk in a systematic manner. Our operations incorporate an overall philosophy, which shapes our policies, define our procedures, and drive our practices. Risk is an inherent part of mountain activities and we can never totally eliminate it, but we can reduce it and make wise informed decisions that will enhance our safety practices.
The three stages of risk assessment we use are Operational, Daily, and Dynamic.
Our operational structure has been set and refined to deliver programs and courses that are within our acceptable level of risk.
Daily assessments take into account weather, conditions, client profiles, energy, and skill levels to choose appropriate objectives and routes.
Dynamic assessment is the moment to moment with the guide making and implementing decisions to enhance safety and optimize the level of risk in the field.
Assessing risk is one of the most difficult tasks we all face in the mountain world. We look at risk as being the culmination of many variables. First off, we need to know what hazards we face. Some are obvious such as avalanches, and some are less obvious because their frequency is so low we haven’t had much exposure to them. Knowing the hazards then allows us to think about how we deal with them with our safety system in place. The next step is to consider the likelihood of that event occurring. This is definitely the hardest piece of the puzzle. Determining the likelihood of an event in the mountain environment is most certainly a subjective expert-based assessment. Therefore, having a team of experienced guides working together, sharing conditions and information will de-bias the subjectivity. This allows our guides to better determine the likelihood of the event. Step three is considering the consequence or severity of that event occurring with our safety measures in place. Would it be of minor consequence or severe? Step four is looking at our overall exposure to the event. Are we in the avalanche path for 1 minute or all day?
Therefore, we determine Hazard Risk = Likelihood x Consequence x Exposure.
So, if we feel a risk is too high, we can reduce this through eliminating or avoiding the hazard and or, reducing the likelihood and or, reducing the consequence and or reducing our overall exposure.
Critical to dealing with risk is having renowned guides and experts building on more than forty operational years of being the leader in Mountain Adventures. Guides at Yamnuska have undergone rigorous certification through the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides and the Canadian Avalanche Association. Yamnuska has more certified Mountain Guides on staff than any other Mountain School in North America. We have over twenty-five CAA level 2 professional members and three CAA Level 3 members in our staffing roster. All our guides have a minimum first aid requirement of an 80-hour Wilderness First Responder course, recertified every three years.
In addition to this, Yamnuska conducts up to five different staff training sessions every year. Staff training is a big commitment, but we look at it as investing in the development of our guides and the safety of our guests. Training consists of reviewing emergency procedures, policies, risk assessments and technical training and development.
Certification is not all we look for in hiring guides. They must be personable and good educators, show good judgement and have exceptional decision-making skills. We have strict hiring criteria and though many guides apply not all are chosen.
Risk management practices extend into all areas of our operation: Vehicles, food, gear, and compliance with Land Managers regulations.
When a guest rides in a Yamnuska vehicle they can be assured that our vehicles are commercially licensed, inspected, insured for transporting guests and have all the necessary provincial and federal operating authorities. All of our drivers possess commercial class four operator’s licenses, are listed on our insurance, provide a yearly driver’s abstract and undergo a driving orientation. For the safety of our guests, we do not allow guides to transport guests in personal guide vehicles as those vehicles are not commercially licensed or insured.
Yamnuska’s Backcountry Kitchen is licensed by the Province of Alberta as a commercial kitchen. This means we adhere to strict food handling and preparation guidelines. Our kitchen manager is a Red Seal Chef, and all of our kitchen and key operations staff have food-safe certificates from the Government of Alberta. We have substantially revamped our food programs over the years to produce high quality dehydrated food prepared to industry standards.
Yamnuska Mountain Adventures works in partnership with some of the best gear manufacturers in the business. We have chosen to work with companies such as Petzl, Patagonia, Backcountry Access, K2, Julbo and Dynafit to name a few. Our Gear is rigorously maintained and serviced. Our rollover on gear is well within the manufacturer’s recommendations so that we may continue to provide quality gear in great condition well within its serviceable life. We track and cycle through our ropes to ensure we know their history and age. A rope is never in our system for more than one year as a lead rope or two as a top rope.
The word ‘risk’ derives from the Italian word risicare which means to dare. The Yamnuska risk management program optimizes levels of risk to allow for positive outcomes and we strive to eliminate the negative. We are proud of our culture and we continuously are striving to maintain the balance of risk and reward. Our intent is to work in an environment with control, not to control the environment.