Brendan Cosgrove from Avalanche Canada demonstrates during a snow sample.

Hands on avalanche training for FSS students

On Thursday, January 9 the day began with a golden sunrise and a fresh blanket of snow for grade nine students at Fernie Secondary School. Students came into the school with high spirits and smiles on their faces at 8:30 a.m. We began the adventure with the distribution of avalanche beacons, probes and shovels that were loaned to students from Avalanche Canada for this adventure.

When we arrived at the mountain, everyone was thankful for the 37 centimetres of powder snow and the bluebird skies. We started our adventure at the bottom of the Timber chair and then made our way over to the Fernie Avalanche Transceiver Training area.

How the training facility worked was, that a small group of students put their transceivers onto “search,” and a “transmitting” signal was out in the training ground (representing a missing skier/boarder). Students had to work in groups and follow their transceiver’s directions to roughly locate the transmitting signal and then use their probe to find the exact location of the signal. Once found, a siren/light would go on, indicating a rescue. Each group had a different signal to find. Students showed their grit and rigor during these scenarios, this snow was deep and the climb was arduous and difficult when finding their mock victims.

The recommended time to find an avalanche victim who is buried under the snow, is 15 minutes. All students were able to find their victims under the allotted time. These kids showed a sense of urgency and determination when moving in the deep trudging snow.

Moving from the training area, we skied down to the White Pass chair and made our way up to the ski patrol hut. Students were shown where the ski patrol meet, make decisions and how the mountain is observed. Students were also shown the avalanche cannons and discussed how and why they are used on the mountain. While up at the hut, our Avalanche Canada trainer, Brendan Cosgrove, showed students some of the dangerous slopes and cornices of the mountain, and discussed the evident avalanche debris of the day. This part of the adventure was to show the students some of the career options at the hill and the work that goes into keeping everyone safe.

Once we completed our tour of the patrol hut and discussion of the area, we moved down to Falling Star, where we started the lesson on snow pits. Brendan dug out his pit and showed students the snow layers and rain layers that have happened in recent weeks. He then demonstrated to students how to cut columns in the snow and how to test for the weak layers with the tapping method. Brendan explained the results to the student and how on that day, it was dangerous to be out in the backcountry with the weak layer giving way very easily in the tapping test. Students then had the opportunity to dig their own snow pit and cut their own columns as well as perform their own weak layer test.

This was a great day, where students were able to get some real hands on learning and practical experience on the hill as well as have some fun with free skiing in the afternoon. This day gave students an understanding of the precautions needed before going out into the backcountry and an understanding of how to use the equipment needed for exciting and active outdoor pursuits in our “backyard.” Through the discussions with patrollers and their tour through the avalanche hut, students gained a furthered appreciation of what goes into making our ski mountain safe for the public.

I would like to say thank you to Avalanche Canada for supporting this trip. They graciously granted us the help of Brendan Cosgrove, as well as loaned us the bulk of the equipment for this day. I would also like to say thank you to the Summit Fund, they provided the grant to make this special day happen for the students at no cost. Thank you also to Fernie Alpine Resort for providing the venue and support to make this day happen.


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Avalanche Canada representative Brendan Cosgrove speaks to grade nine students about snow safety.

Students pose at the top of White Pass chair during a day of learning at Fernie Alpine Resort. Photos Submitted

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