The trip started with 10 strangers (8 x CFAVs (6 x male & 2 x female) and 2 x female Senior Cadets) meeting at Heathrow airport after traveling from all parts of the country. Despite a few problems with the trains we checked in as a group on time and set off for the departure gate at London Heathrow. This was a new adventure, not only facing the challenges of learning Alpine ski touring but also visiting Canada. Thanks to CCAT this has made everyone’s dreams come true.
We landed at Calgary airport to temperatures of -18°C Ouch! The baggage was collected and we were welcomed by our two instructors Kevin Edwards (OC CCAT) and Glyn Sheppard. During the stunning drive out of Calgary we were rewarded with a deep orange sunset illuminating the Rocky Mountains. Although it was only early evening in Canada jet lag was kicking in but we needed to remain alert as we collected our ski touring equipment on route to our accommodation in Banff. A quick supper, which for us felt like 4am, and we were soon in slumber.
The first day on the slopes and it was clear that everyone was very excited to get their skis on but we were also very apprehensive to be skiing with new people. This was the moment of truth to see how well the group skied, but after a few runs down the long sweeping slopes the team were finding their feet again. The instructors were full of encouragement and the many coaching tips boosted confidence. For the first day on the slopes this was truly one of the best skiing experiences ever and begged the question and how could this get any better? That evening, after the macaroni cheese feast, we had our first evening debrief. The aims that were set for the team were teamwork, courage and self-discipline.
The second day skiing was on the coldest day yet. Cold hands reminded us that our personal administration had to be slick throughout the day. Starting off at -23°C in the car park of Sunshine Valley proved to be an important lesson of getting dressed quickly after getting out of a warm vehicle. We started off with a few warm up runs followed by a quick thaw off in the café before hitting it hard with the new skills which essentially meant disassembling everything we knew about skiing. The first lesson was introducing pole planting, with expressions of “how hard can this be”. Little treats of the day included great visibility, sunshine, outstanding views of the Matterhorn of Canada (Mount Assiniboine) and the heated chair lift seats improving moral. It didn’t take long before we moved on to varying terrain from perfectly groomed slopes to the bumps and powder snow. Everyone was gradually becoming comfortable not only with their personal skiing but also with moving around the mountain as a group. One of our aims was to sit next to someone different on the ski lifts and to find out some interesting facts about the team members some of which did bring out a few giggles. After only two days spent together the team was really supportive and respectful of each other. The information and coaching suddenly became clear as a stepping stone towards ski touring giving everyone great incentive and enthusiasm to venture out into the back country. It was safe to say the last run down was a tough one, with sore legs and catching the edges the team was happy to see the car park. The black run through the bumps was the talk at the dinner table over a heart-warming chilli. The day ended with a sense of positive excitement from each team member having learnt so much topped off with a great sense of achievement after an awesome day!
Waking up to a spin drift through the window in the early hours really set the scene with the weather. Today was the day for learning to ski uphill using skins and the many techniques involved for a successful ascent. Due to the predicted high winds and heavy snow the instructors decided to keep us sheltered within the trees for the ascent. Five minutes into the ascent we were venting and cooling off, which was a learning curve for many as to how to dress for this sort of exercise. The three hour ascent involved various inclines which proved to be a challenge. The team gelled together well each providing encouragement to the others so we remained together throughout. All group members were determined to keep going taking the opportunity to swap around in the line-up so we could chat with everyone. The ascent was great, learning new skills and having to trust the equipment, it gave us all a strong sense of achievement when we reached the top. After lunch we had an introduction to the transceivers which sent the instructors to giggles when we all started to wander in different directions. We also learnt some kick turns, making some people strain their limits of flexibility. Today felt like a special day having used the ski to its full potential this is a big feature of this course. The team weren’t too sure what to expect, but the overall feedback suggested it was easier than expected and very enjoyable. Although we were skinning up a marked run in the ski resort we still felt remote and in a beautiful setting with peace and quiet.
The following day we set off to Bow summit car park, just as we get onto route 93, the icefields parkway, we were interrupted in our journey by a lynx crossing the road. This was a very unique moment and although he wasn’t fast to move off we were still too slow to take a photo. Once parked up, skis on and we were off across an open meadow, and up through the tress to observation peak. Today felt totally different than the previous days, we were so remote and this really felt like being in the back country. Making our own tracks uphill everyone was quiet in their thoughts anticipating what to expect for the first time of ‘off piste’ skiing in fresh snow. A quick lunch stop and a snow profile test reassuring us that the area was safe. This was what everyone had signed up for to experience skiing on fresh snow, to make our own tracks and appreciate the landscape. The biggest smiles from the group indicated that they loved it. Though the weather wasn’t great and the visibility wasn’t perfect the back country skiing was such great fun. Once through the open areas, we got into the trees trying to dodge them and each other till we reached the bottom. Today had been one of the best days of adventure training we had ever done. Yes it was challenging and we were pushed out of our comfort zone but today were such a thrill and everyone really enjoyed every moment.
Bow summit was again on the agenda today. Another day in the back country but today was totally different, with bright blue sky at -19°C with what looked like to be glitter in the air, freezing crystals. Lots of team work and communication was tested as we cut in around the trees, helping each other through the technical terrain, checking people through the tough parts but still having a few laughs until we all got it right. Skill sets were challenged, and frustrations were felt and rewards were had, every member showed determination and courage. Once down off the hill we went through an avalanche exercise by practically searching for a transceiver. This was a very useful exercise and opened our eyes to the efficiency of a well conducted avalanche beacon search. We then went to Lake Louise Hotel seeing the spectacular ice lake, ice sculptures followed by dinner with a Mountain View.
This exercise had definitely exceeded our expectations and then some. We all achieved the JSAT Ski Foundation level 2 (SF2) qualification and many more personal goals. The team would like to sincerely thank the Ulysses Trust for their financial support.