Approaching the mountains

Approaching the mountains

WORDS: Joey Vosburgh PHOTO: Joey Vosburgh

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Joey Vosburgh spent his youth chasing snow around the Rocky Mountains of Alberta and developed a great appreciation and respect for the mountains. When he discovered splitboarding his world suddenly became much larger. He passed the ACMG Apprentice Ski Guide exam, becoming one of a select few to have done so on a splitboard, and love spending his winters working as a heli snowboard guide for Selkirk Tangiers heli sking and as a splitboard guide at Rogers Pass and Whitecap Alpine.

The mountains are an inherently dangerous place, and travelling through them on a regular basis puts you more at risk than the average couch dweller. I have been an avid backcountry user for over 20 years, but over the past 4 years I invested considerable amount of energy taking ACMG (Association of Canadian Mountain Guides) courses and exams, and now working as an apprentice ski guide (on a splitboard). My education is ongoing as I prepare for the Full Ski Guide Exam this spring. Over the past 4 years my experiences have influenced how I approach the mountains recreationally.


I’ve gained insight into how guiding operations approach the daily hazard. Its a formal process completed and documented each morning that covers the following topics:

  1. Current weather observations. What changed overnight?
  2. Forecasted weather for the day. How it will affect conditions?
  3. Recent and notable avalanche observations within our region.
  4. Current avalanche problems. Given the factors listed above, what are the anticipated avalanche problems? Where on the terrain are they of concern? Which aspect or elevation?
  5. Stability and avalanche hazard ratings and the potential for change over the day
  6. Additional hazards, new observations required to fill in gaps
  7. and finally a run list

Operational morning meeting at Selkirk Tangiers Heli-Skiing. Pilots and guides get together daily. Photo: Joey Vosburgh

This morning meeting is a time for open discussion amongst a group of experts to mitigate the risk involved in travelling in the backcountry. Ultimately the goal is to make the day safer, and shred some pow…

What I’ve realized it that this process is not entirely different than a day out with friends. Replace the formal meeting with a casual discussion on the drive up to The Pass. The discussion revolves around the same components of an operational meeting. Present weather, forecast weather and how that will impact the day, avalanche ratings and problems, observations from previous days and finally where to go.

The where to go question is the most important moment for me, its the same as an operational “run-list” and highlights these questions: Is our objective reasonable given the current conditions? What are the cruxes of the day? How can we manage these individual pieces of terrain? Even on a day out with friends we all show up having done our homework, gathering the needed information the night before or the morning of.


A few tips on taking approaching the mountains like a pro:

Do your research

Avalanche Canada is an amazing resource for us. Providing access to daily avalanche bulletins, links to professional weather products, and the Information Network where the public can share observations.

Look at maps and google earth. Picture the terrain, look for options, estimate travel times and consider a turn around time. The only way you’ll get good at reading maps is through practice.

Get to know your technology

Smart phones are amazing tools for checking current telemetry (wind, temps, new snow) or web cams at different elevations. I also have my phone set up with all the radar and satellite links for quick viewing.

With right apps and maps downloaded it can double as a gps.