Why do an Avalanche Skills Training course

Calendar January 8th, 2018

If someone asks if you want to do an AST course.. do not hesitate.. say yes and worry later!

What is an AST course? AST stands for Avalanche Skills Training, and it comes in two levels... As I had never done this I agreed to do it with my housemate. At first I wasn't really sure what to expect, except it was something to do with avalanches.. duh!? The Level 1 Course is only two days, first day in a classroom, and the second day out in the field.

So the morning of day 1 arrived, we had arranged to be picked up at the local supermarket. On arrival we kept our eyes peeled for anyone who looked like he was looking for us, and within a few minutes we were approached by someone from Rising Sun Guides, loaded into a car and were being driven to the classroom… no going back now! 

Walking into the building felt a bit like the first day of school, sat around a table with a bunch of people who you don't know. The first thing the course leader said was “As you are sitting here, statistically you are now more likely to be involved in an avalanche!”….I felt uneasy about this being his opening line, but hey let's continue. Within the first hour I realised that the majority of people had done this before or had at least done some touring or backcountry.. and then there was me, sat there out of my depth just wanting to learn more.

  • We started to learn about the risk of avalanches, different types of avalanches and how wind, temperature and humidity can all effect the way the snow falls and then bonds.
  • This then lead to us learning about companion rescue which started by watching an old clip explaining what to do. This part was long but was all needed to help us to understand what we had to do.
  • Finally we got to put all that we’d learned to practice, it was time to head out into the cold to use the equipment. We were provided with a bag which contained a shovel, beacon and probe.. yeah, it was new to me too. Firstly, we put the shovel together, simple.. then we learned more about the probe and had to throw one end and then connect it all together… note to self, when practicing find a nice clear area, away from other people!
  • Next was the beacon, this is what transmits waves allowing you to search for people in the snow. Once these were all up and running we got to go for an experiment.

After walking through snow up to my knees, I realised it would have been a good idea to have worn some waterproof trousers, not leggings! We were then told we are going to do a drill and try and find a bag in the snow…. ‘HELP HELP!! Its Australia Day and my naked friend was caught in an avalanche’ …immediately I ran to help, first calling emergency services and then began to use my beacon to search for said ‘naked friend’. As the distance got smaller I had my knuckles in the ground trying to get as close as I could, creating marks in the snow for my search area. Grabbed my probe out my bag and began placing it in the ground, within seconds the “Aussie” was found and safe. We then did another search where we had to dig the bag out, and managed to achieve this in a decent time!

 

Niseko Japan scenery2

 

 

Day 2 began when we arrived in a car park in the middle of what seemed like nowhere! I got my self ready and then had to prep the skis with skins. With some assistance I managed to stick these on quite well, unlocked the hiking bindings, and with my kit on, I was ready to go! Walking with skis on is more of a work out than I had anticipated…it was baking!…I underestimated how warm I would get but wow the view and the snow was unreal. Whilst hiking we stopped and started talking about the snow and the conditions of the day, before arriving at a stopping point. We began to dig a pit…why? This allowed us to see the layers of snow and then test to see if there is a weak layer, it is a lot more interesting than it sounds, trust me!

Now for the fun part... SKIING!! Finally we got to ski some proper pow, or at least I thought... After getting to the bottom of the slope, we then started to hike back up. This hike took ages - we practically hiked to the top! We got to see some features which allowed us to understand avalanches and the weather effects even more. Last... But certainly not least we got to ski again!! AND OH MY GOD... It was the best powder I have ever skied (fell over in, more than once) in my life. If you get a chance to go on a course or you are umming and arring, stop now and book it, it was so much fun and you even end up with a nice certificate... Winning!