With more than a decade of serious ski-guiding credentials in the exposed, steep heli terrain of Alaska, Argentina, Chile, and Idaho, Eddie Bauer ski guide Reggie Crist is widely respected for his deep knowledge of navigating challenging big-mountain venues. His credibility and experience in that exclusive guiding club is why he was selected to pass on that knowledge in the Silverton steep guiding workshop last month in the gnarly San Juans of Southern Colorado. This is his guide report on passing along that steep and deep guiding knowledge.
Words by Reggie Crist, Images courtesy of Reggie Crist/Stellar Media
Colorado’s Silverton Mountain provided a unique learning environment for the first annual Practical Protocols for Snow Professionals (PPSS) workshop last week. With private access to the resort and an A-Star B3e helicopter, the PPSS workshop is designed to train professional and aspiring heli-ski guides and patrollers. The 3-day, 30-hour seminar kicked off with a discussion about recent incidents and the industry’s lack of training requirements for certified guides and patrollers. The only prerequisites in most states are avy 1 and 2 courses plus a WFR (80-hour medical) course, so it is possible for guides and patrollers to become responsible for their clients’ lives in less than 12 months.
Aaron Brill, Dean Cummings, and I shared our combined 60+ years of guiding and patrolling experience. Overlaying that knowledge with practical hands-on demonstrations both in the classroom and in the field, presented a great higher-level learning environment for our students. Focusing on terrain management, protocols, and techniques for mitigating a wide spectrum of hazards, students were challenged to consider how patrollers must think like guides (see PowerPoint slide show) and vice versa. Patrollers have the advantage of explosives, which provides a steep learning curve. In contrast, guides must rely on non-explosive techniques to ensure safety for their clients and themselves. After in-depth conversations about ski cutting techniques, summit and ridge-top protocols, in-flight rapid terrain assessment, and group management of pro skiers/riders, Brill dropped explosives in complex terrain from his helicopter while students were challenged to make their own prediction, an exercise called “Testing Your Forecast.”
At the end of the course, Spencer LaMarche, a four-year patroller from Tamarack Resort in Idaho, observed, “I’m EMT-certified and I’ve passed all my snow science courses, but this is the kind of knowledge you can’t read about in a book.”
Like an NFL referee signaling a touchdown, Spencer held his hands high and guided the helicopter in for a landing. His excitement was palpable as he loaded and unloaded the heli basket. After landing the heli, he then led the group down a rocky 50-degree couloir. Utilizing efficient on-the-go techniques such as pole pits and hand shear tests, he analyzed the snowpack as the group moved methodically from one island of safety to the next. By the end of the day, each person had an opportunity to lead the charge and learn from one another, as team chemistry jelled. In the final debrief, the 24-person class unanimously agreed: there is no substitute for experience in the mountains!
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