AMGA Ski Guide Exam In G3's Backyard
I have worked as an instructor / examiner for the AMGA (American Mountain Guides Association) since 2006, and for the past 6 years we have been running some of our courses and exams north of the border at various Canadian venues. This April we were lucky enough to visit G3's neck of the woods when I ran a full ski guides exam out of the little town of Pemberton about 25 minutes north of Whistler, BC. It was my first time in the area which is both a bit stressful as well as exciting as I needed to create an appropriate exam in a new area with a very high snowline. It is a difficult job as we are "guiding guides". We need to walk the line of examiner and friend. We try to decrease stress yet keep it engaging and at the international standard.
Some of the guide candidates had been in the area for close to 3 weeks preparing for the exam. They had been subjected to terrible weather - lots of rain or white out conditions in the alpine. As I drove into Pemberton at 10:00pm in light rain I was weary and had some anxiety about running the exam. In addition to the bad weather the region had been having, they were also cursed with what we call a persistent weak layer (PWL) in the snowpack with close to a meter of snow on top.
The next day I woke up to broken skies and some amazing views of of Mount Currie rising 8000ft above town. Such an inspiring area with huge vertical! But so much of it was green! Regardless, the weather and ski condition had taken an impressive turn in our favour, and we had a stellar week ahead of us.
We started off the exam with a day of hitting a number of the classic side-country lines off Blackcomb including 9th Hole on Mount Decker and a rapple entrance to the middle Cham Chute. Great first day!
Our second day we had tasked the candidates with selecting their own big tour of at least 4000 ft. One group went on a tour up the Armchair Glacier and my group decided to go for the N face of Slaylock - a super classic glaciated face in the Duffey Lake area. Due to the high snowline, our day started out with hiking on firm snow and water ice on the approach trail. Our "guide" even had to chop steps on the approach trail!
Once on skis we used many of the tools of ski mountaineering from ski crampons to pitched out climbing and glacier travel. We opened up the north face and had stable conditions all the way to the lake.
Day three our groups swapped sides of the valley, with one group attempting Cayoosh and the other group skiing the NW face of Matier. This was another beautiful, bluebird day with great powder skiing and had some adventurous tree skiing down low.
On our fourth day, we took advantage of a local heli service to fly to the summit of Mount Currie and toured above tree line all day. This was a fantastic day and we covered lots of ground in the alpine before being picked up at tree line and dropped at home. Heli touring is a great way to travel as you get that heli help to start the day off, then move under your own power all day. We were treated to a fun "drop" with the heli as the pilot carved the sky down the north face of Currie.
The weather began to turn as it always does in a coastal climate, so the next few days we did our crevasse rescue exam and some inside classroom lessons while it rained outside. On our final day we did another day of side country off of Blackcomb where we were focused on technical up guiding and short roping. It was a stormy day and the conditions were very "Alpine". Great finish to a excellent exam.
One of the highlights of the exam were that we ended up passing and certifying the first US AMGA certified snowboard guide - a win for splitboarding. On that note, G3's Canadian splitboard athlete Joey Vosburgh recently earned his ACMG guiding certificate this spring. Well done Joey.
It was a true pleasure exploring G3's backyard playground, and I will be back to this coastal zone again for sure!