Winter Mobility Course
By Lieutenant M. Boyce
30 Jan 2009
The year of 2009 kicked off with Recce Sqn taking part in the Brigade Winter Mobility training at Castle Mountain located in the Albertan Rockies. Five serials of this course were planned with Reconnaissance Squadron making up the majority of the first two. The first serial departed the 12th of January and returned on the 21st. Eight training days were allotted for this course with two others for travel.
The day we arrived was spent sorting out the accommodations and the distribution of the newly purchased skiing equipment, which to our surprise was brand new and top of the line. Preparations for the next day included sorting out skiing groups and getting ready for what was ahead. For many this would the first time that they had skied in their life, for others it would be a chance to hit the slopes and enjoy.
The first three training days consisted of down hill skiing. The entire course was split into groups of 5-6, each group being assigned one instructor who would be their guide for the next nine days. The instructors pushed us to our skiing limits and were a great help in improving our alpine skills. From beginner to the advanced skiers, all were taught tricks to improve our skills, or lack there of.
Most began the skiing adventure going up the Huckleberry trail which consisted of Green Circle (beginner) and Blue Square (intermediate) runs in order to shake off the rust due to years away from the sport. Once comfortable, many groups switched to the more advanced trails up the Sundance Triple Chair. This as I came to learn was still not the top of the mountain but only a mere half way up. After many spills and awkward landings our skills, with the aid of the instructors, began to improve. By the second day these intermediate runs became less daunting and instructors pushed us higher to the top of the Tamarack Chair. Double Blue Squares and Black Diamond runs now became the norm. Many of us looked over the side of the mountain and had second thoughts of what we were about to do. However, the instructors gave us the much needed push and down we went. Once again after more tumbles and more runs confidence grew considerably. Many of the students never thought they would one day be weaving through trees, avoiding rocks, and skiing on powder, not groomed trails. By the end of day three our skiing was much improved and we awaited our next adventure, the back country.
The next five days were spent in the back country, no more warm beds and kitchen cooked meals. Skins were added to the bottom of the skis allowing us to be able to walk up hill on skis while carrying our ruck sacks. We packed 96 hours of rations in our rucks with very little room for extra clothing. Our ski guides looked through our packs before we left and made us leave many comfort items behind, “the packs were just too heavy,” they said. The five day adventure began along relatively flat terrain leaving many us saying, “this is pretty easy.” However, three kilometres into the march we began our ascent. By night fall of day one, most groups reached the midway point to the base camp, of which would be our home for the next few days. Once at base camp tents were setup, cooking areas created, latrines marked, and even some quinzhee’s (snow shelters) were made.
Thus began the avalanche and back country survival portion of the course. Once at the camp the students were taught avalanche search and rescue skills, as well how to physically look at the terrain and determine whether they were safe or not. The ski guides also showed us how to conduct such snow tests as the compression test and the rouche block test. These were done to determine if a certain slope was safe to ski on. During the day each group would go on a ski tour, involving climbing up the slopes on our skis, enjoying the scenery then skiing down the mountain back to our base camp.
Day five of the back country saw all of the students return to the resort for a well deserved meal, shower and warm bed. The back country experience was often strenuous but a rewarding feat in itself. We learned basic winter survival skills and were trained in avalanche awareness and rescue procedures. The Winter Mobility course was challenging but resulted in a very rewarding experience. Through all the laughter (sometimes pain) many new skills were learned and humbling experiences were had by all.