Last Frontier Heliskiing Guide’s Training

December 20, 2017 D'Arcy McLeish
Getting a little December shred on.  Photo - Cliff Umpleby
One of our guides getting a little December shred on.
Photo – Cliff Umpleby

It’s a pretty magical time of the year. The holidays are upon us and the first group of guests for the 2017-18 Last Frontier Heliskiing season are hooting and hollering their way through our first week of operations. A lot goes into getting ready for a heliski season, but the last week before we open is particularly busy, with lodge and maintenance staff doing some annual training, refreshers and getting the operation ready. But for the guides and the pilots, it’s a time to hone and re-new their craft and their passion for the mountains over a week of intense training to start the season.

Mike Gajda, one of our long time guides, going over some rescue protocols.  Photo - Steve Rosset
Mike Gajda, one of our long time guides, going over some rescue protocols.
Photo – Steve Rosset

Guide’s training is always a fun time, but it’s also a serious week. The main focus of the week is to train and refresh and discuss all those skills that go into making sure our guests have the greatest possible chance to ski as much as they can and be as safe as they can in the mountains. It’s also a chance to get our entire guiding crew together to pow wow about the upcoming season. We’re always looking to improve in any department. The guides are no different. In concert with our pilots, the training week is a chance to float new ideas, look at improving and tweaking new procedures and do a little high level skills practices.

Practice, practice, practice and then more practice.  Photo - Steve Rosset
Practice, practice, practice and then more practice.
Photo – Steve Rosset

Most of our guides are long time veterans of the mountains, both at Last Frontier Heliskiing and in their own personal lives in the mountains, but we had a few newer guides this year and the mix brought in some fresh ideas. Working as a guide is an all encompassing job and requires a unique and incredibly varied skill set to be successful. You have to part avalanche forecaster, ski mountaineer, climber, mountain rescue specialist, meteorologist and ninja skier. Training each year is fairly involved and the days are packed. First on that list of skills to hone and refresh are the rescue skills. This is multi-faceted and encompasses avalanche search and rescue techniques, crevasse and rope rescue, first aid and helicopter safety. The pilots are heavily involved with our guides; it’s important for both groups to be on the same page, especially when dealing with any type of emergency.

Lots of discussion, lots of planning.  Photo - Steve Rosset
Lots of discussion, lots of planning.
Photo – Steve Rosset

Next there are big discussions of terrain, avalanche hazards (typical areas of concern), and the current snowpack characteristics throughout our heliski tenure. These discussions are critical in setting the tone for season. There is a review of last season’s snowpack and then a look ahead at the season, with some general planning and goals for the coming season. We have a massive heliski area, and each year our guides like to explore some of the undiscovered gems still waiting to be skied. But more than that, our guides and pilots spend a lot of time during training, as well as through the season, looking at how to maximize ski time and minimize travel, heli and fuelling time to get the absolute most out of each ski day.

Ropeguns hard at work. Photo - Steve Rosset
Ropeguns hard at work.
Photo – Steve Rosset

The guide’s training isn’t all business, as they do typically get out to ski a little. That gives them an opportunity to have a good look around and get a feel for what’s happening in the mountains before our guests arrive for the first week of operations. Our guides and pilots take pride in their craft and continually strive to improve safety and efficiency each year. That openness and progressive outlook allows our operation to be flexible to trying new techniques and continuing to evolve and strive for the best. But don’t take our word for it. Come and see for yourself. At Last Frontier Heliskiing, it’s all about getting out there and experiencing the majesty and connection to the mountains. Having a robust and exhaustive training program helps us immeasurably so our guests have that fantastic mountain experience.

Be safe, ski hard.