During the last year I have been looking in learning how to do Alpine Touring and this learning is taking place in Manning Park Ski Resort. First I took some lessons in downhill skiing using Telemark and AT (Alpine Touring) skies. Then I was offered a special two-hour package for alpine touring plus a very informal introduction to avalanche safety.
We (Jimmy and I) went to the top of the ski lifts where I got an explanation about skins. Skins are removable pieces of plush fabric whose knap runs at an oblique angle, allowing the ski to glide forward, but not back.
Applying climbing skins
On Telemark the skier heels are always free, in my case, because I was using Alpine Touring Skies I have to free my heel while we were ascending or transversing.
Ski touring requires the ability to go off-piste, good navigational skills and good knowledge of the mountain environment in winter.
For the last one Jimmy choose a location to assess and test the snow conditions to mimimize the risk of avalanche. We carried beacons, probes, and shovels.
We used the probe to check the layers of snow, probes are used in combination with beacons to find buried victims.
We digged a snow pit where my guide quickly evaluated the snow pack for hidden hazards, such as weak layers supporting large loads. Fortunately, today he didn't found anything out of ordinary.
Dude, you see this? it rained that night
The shovel shear test is fast, easy, and require nothing more than an avalanche shovel but the results are not easy to communicate between various observers.
Another popular test is the Swiss rutschblock test, where an column about 2 m (6.5 ft) long and 1.5m (4 ft) wide is isolated. To isolate the sides and back of the block we use a knotted nylon cord, however, if you are alone, you need to shovel out or cut with a ski or special saw.
Rutschblock Test - 1) Isolating a small block of snow on an inclined slope
If the block fails while being isolated, it is given a rutschblock score of 1. If it does not fail, it is progressively loaded by a person on skis. First, the skier gently steps onto the block. Failure at this point indicates a rutschblock score of 2. Then the skier bends their knees, settling their weight on the block (score of 3). This is followed by a moderate jump (score of 4), a large jump (score of 5), several large jumps (score of 6), and no failure (score of 7).
Research in Switzerland and Canada has shown that rutschblocks that fail before the first jump (scores of 1, 2, or 3) indicate that avalanche slopes with similar conditions are likely to be triggered by a skier, while rutschblocks that fail on the first or second jump (scores of 4 or 5) indicate marginally stable conditions. Rutschblocks failing after two jumps (scores of 6 or 7) indicate a low potential of a skier-triggered avalanche on a similar slope, although it is still possible to trigger an avalanche.
Rutschblock Test - 2) Dropping a nylon cord and jump until the weak layer fails
Then I had a very basic lesson of Alpine Touring, as an accomplished Telemarker skier, Jimmy has mastered the Telemark turn and he is able to keep his torso vertical and oriented downhill while linking turns, thus avoiding turning too far.
In my case I was using Alpine Touring (AT) or randonnée equipment, personally I found Telemark to be more elegant but I will wait a while before I try to learn the challenging Telemark turn.
Red Mountain - 2469 m
I was happy for having this lesson in a safe environment, I don't know how long it is going to take me to learn the downhill techniques but at least I am aware of the skills I need to learn before I can experience the self reliance that usually I find in my summer hikes.
Red Chair - Gibson Pass
The final part of the lesson was a descent to the parking lot, I had a lot of problems because I still don't know how to control the direction and speed of my descent. I think I am going to keep doing my snowplough turn for a while - it involves forming a V shape with the skis to turn around -, hopefully next winter I will be able to learn the parallel turn
Next season the Resort will be offering a Recreational Avalanche Certification Course plus an introduction to Backcountry Ski Touring. Guess who is going to be there?
You can experience winter at Manning as well, to learn more visit Winter at Manning
Driving distance from Vancouver: 220 km (137.5 miles)