Searching for Surface Hoar

Puns aside, the Peak Leaders trainees here in Whistler are now avalanche aware. Over a two-day AST (Avalanche Skills Training) Course a combination of practical field exercises and theory sessions were delivered for the trainees to earn their qualification.

Theory sessions covered the basics of avalanche terrain identification, avalanche danger evaluation, and a little snow science. Strong and weak temperature gradients, snow crystals, facets, and of the dreaded buried surface hoar!

Then it was off (well, literally just across the road) for beacon location exercise. How to locate a buried victim in the case of an avalanche – it took a little while for everyone to get to grips with using the beacons, but in the end the group burial exercises ran very smoothly.



The second day of the AST course dawned crisp and clear – and about -25 degrees! So the first challenge of the day was simply staying warm. The morning was spent identifying avalanche terrain in and around Blackcomb mountain, followed by an extended hot chocolate break to defrost the toes.

With our mountain-man guide Steve, digging a snow pit to identify layers in the snowpack

Buried about a metre down (below last weeks epic storm) was evidence of a rain crust – potential weak layers which could lead to failures during our tests.

Snow science in action – checking out the surface hoar.


Cutting the cake.

Shovel tests reveal how strong the snowpack is and where it could potentially fail.


Cuttin’ shapes.


This method of snowpack analysis does not yield information about snow stability, but rather gives a good indication of how the snowpack tastes. Also very important.

Congratulations to all of the trainees on successfully completing their Avalanche Course!


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