By Andrea Arnold

McBride residents have the option of locally held Avalanche Skill Training 1 (AST 1) courses this winter. Sean Proktor offered a two day AST 1 course before Christmas, and has plans to host another one in Jasper, Jan 20 & 21.

“It is considered an essential course for anyone looking to spend time in the backcountry during the winter,” said Proktor. “Avalanche terrain is everywhere. Knowing how to read and manage the terrain is the most important skill to have in the mountains.”

Proktor is a Level II certified member with the Canadian Avalanche Association (CAA) and has been teaching the course for six years. In addition to the requirements for being a course provider, he also has 90-hr Wilderness First Aid, CAA Level II Certification (including Intro to Weather Certification, as it applies to the snowpack), and Avalanche Search and Rescue, and the distinction of being an Association of Canadian Mountain guides Apprentice Ski Guide.

The two-day course involves one classroom day and one field day. Upon completion of the course, participants are able to read and understand the Avalanche Bulletin and Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale, have a better understanding about how weather affects the snowpack, how to conduct snow instability tests, and how to perform companion rescue. Participants also learn winter travel and risk mitigation.

Procktor says the course is considered an essential course for anyone looking to spend time in the backcountry during the winter.

“The key to the course is providing students with a basic understanding of avalanches and avalanche terrain,” he said. “This will empower them to make good decisions in the backcountry through the use of various tools that are provided during the course.

During the classroom portion, participants receive an avalanche skills handbook, a companion rescue card, avaluator (a tool developed by Avalanche Canada to help backcountry users manage avalanche risk) and an Avalanche Canada AST 1 certificate upon completion.

As governed by Avalanche Canada, the courses are small, with a maximum of eight participants.

“In the field, I am not allowed to have a ratio greater than eight students to one instructor,” said Proktor. “I would not want to go greater than that because the course content is very in-depth and students will not get the best experience if there are too many people on the course. I like small groups for better learning.”

“As I tell all my students in the course, this is only the beginning of a lifelong journey of learning.”