Guide’s Training: Snow, Safety and Strategy

December 20, 2013 Katie Burrell

Sure, it’s a saying, but it’s true: a guide’s work is never done. In the summer, they keep their fitness strong with rock climbing, mountain biking and hiking, and as soon as that first snowflake falls, they are in the mountains watching the snowpack, studying the layers, observing the weather and tracking the storm cycles. From the beginning of every winter until the spring, heliskiing, cat skiing and ski touring operations keep their guides very busy; to make sure that all the guides are on the same page and understand what is happening in the specific region, operations host a guide’s training.

The Last Frontier Heliskiing guides, testing the ABS bags at Bell 2.
The Last Frontier Heliskiing guides, testing the ABS bags at Bell 2. Photo: Jun Yanagisawa

Despite what you may think, this training is not an excuse for the guide’s to get together and party for a few days before the guests arrive. Yes, there is beer to be drunk and stories from the summer to be caught up on, but from the early morning until dinner, the guides are discussing snow, conditions, terrain, avalanche safety, seasonal goals and team strategy. The guides spend the days out in the field checking out terrain and snowpack, and familiarizing themselves with the early season conditions so that they know how to prepare themselves for the first guests.

Follow these guys for the good times.
Follow these guys for the good times. Photos: Jun YanagisawaPracticing toboggan rescues.


I asked Trevor Carter, one of Last Frontier Heliskiing’s guides, to tell me what he does to prepare for the season at Last Frontier Heliskiing. Last year was his first year with Last Frontier Heliskiing, and so his first priority is “to memorize the terrain. Starting with which zone I’m working in, and then which run I’m on.” He asks himself which features stand out in each particular run, what the safest lines are, and where the best snow might be. Trevor likes to go through his personal memories and sift through endless terrain photos and maps, to “piece together a mental image of the ‘game board’.”

Prepared for any situation! Photo: Jun Yanagisawa
Prepared for any situation! Photo: Jun Yanagisawa

Last year was lucky: with good snow stability and clear blue skies, “we skied runs that some of my fellow guides had not skied for several years. Those memories get put into the memory bank for future seasons.”

Checking out the terrain..."oh yeah...THAT line!" Photo: Caton Garvie
Checking out the terrain…”oh yeah…THAT line!” Photo: Caton Garvie
Shop talk.
Shop talk. Photo: Jun Yanagisawa


Guide’s Training happened last week at Last Frontier Heliskiing, and with good early season snowfall and cold temperatures, the guides are looking forward to showing you around their giant backyard. If there is one thing that these men and women are not lacking, it’s passion. Trevor became a guide three ways: “sacrifice, mileage and a van down by the river.”

It got him here. Photo: Caton Garvie
Home away from home. Photo: Jun Yanagisawa It got him here. Photo: Caton Garvie