On the icy morning of December 7th, the Discovery boys and teachers, arrived bright and early at the Field House ready for a fun day of skiing. However, skiing wasn’t our only focus; our skills were being assessed in order to determine whether we would be on the backcountry snowshoe or skiing trips. We also learned that we would be meeting with the Blackcomb avalanche forecaster, Nigel, to talk about avalanche conditions and backcountry safety
After an uneventful drive, we arrived at Base II on Blackcomb. From there, we were split into two groups; one group was made up of skiers and snowboarders who hadn’t been on the mountain much, and the other group comprised of boys with more experience.
Not long after the groups split, my group hiked over to the Excalibur Gondola. By the time we got to the top, most of the boys were already frozen numb. It was -16°C! Despite being extremely cold, most of the boys were excited to go down our first run, Springboard. For me, it was a unique experience to see how talented everyone was.
After going down Springboard, we finished our assessment and once again split according to skill level. Both groups decided that -16°C weather was too cold to be out for long and called for a hot chocolate break at the Rendezvous lodge.
At 11:30, we hiked over to the Patrol hut and met with Nigel, the avalanche forecaster. There, we learned about the different backcountry areas that were considered potential avalanche terrain, how ski patrol manages that terrain, and many ways to keep ourselves out of danger. Something I learned from Nigel was that the Whistler side operates differently compared to the Blackcomb side. One difference is when Blackcomb is dealing with build-ups of snow after a snowfall, they only send up 6 patrollers, but Whistler sends all of their patrollers. We also learned about the training that is required to become an avalanche forecaster, something that probably scared a lot of people away from the job. This included completing at least 2 levels of first aid, involving more than 80 hours of learning and countless hours of experience out in the field. After about an hour, we headed back to the Rendezvous for lunch.
After much debate, my group decided that we would head over to Crystal chair for a few runs. This was the best part of the day because our instructor, Rory, let us cruise along the edges of the runs and hit all of the jumps. As we returned to Base II and the bus home, we were all exhausted but the day felt far too short!
The day at Blackcomb really helped refine our skiing and snowboarding skills because it acted as a warm up for many of us. As it was the first day of the year on the mountain for most people, many of us were a little shaky in the morning, but as the day went on, we got better. In preparation for our future backcountry ski and snowshoe trips, I’m confident in saying that the Discovery class is ready for any obstacle that comes our way.