Top three reasons to upgrade your skills in Whistler
Master the fundamental avalanche skills on world-class terrain
Stunning backcountry offers steep chutes, tree skiing and alpine meadows
Ideal balance between theoretical classroom knowledge and practical application in the backcountry
Known for its majestic scenery, high-quality alpine terrain and a slew of options for novice and expert skiers alike, Whistler is a true backcountry paradise for any skiing aficionado. With its alpine meadows, steep chutes, and fields of untracked powder, it comes as no surprise that it’s been voted among the top skiing destinations in North America. However, whenever you find yourself in the backcountry, you have to be fully aware of its unforeseen pitfalls. Avalanches could be just around the corner and things can take a turn for the worse in an instant. This is where the avalanche course in Whistler comes into the picture—the quality snowpack and a wide variety of terrain make for an ideal training ground to learn how to deal with perils in the backcountry’s stunning yet unpredictable conditions, all with an expert guide by your side. Find out more about why Whistler is one of the best places for backcountry skiing in Canada from Greg Hill, ACMG Ski Guide extraordinaire.
November through April
Vancouver, BC, is 1.5 hours away
Beginner to intermediate
Choose how you spend your day
2-Day Private AST Level 1 Course
This course will help you understand and recognize the possible and unforeseen pitfalls that one can encounter while in the backcountry and will also help you prepare for any challenges that you may face. Master the fundamental avalanche theory and on the second day, you’ll get a guide to yourself who will help you put your newfound knowledge into practice in Whistler’s true backcountry. The classroom allows all students to maintain the required 2m physical distancing guidelines and cleaning is performed before and after every meeting room use, as well as during every break.
2-Day Basic In-Person AST Level 1 Course
This course will help you understand and recognize the treacherous conditions that one can encounter in the backcountry and prepare you for any challenges that might come your way. Your certified and knowledgeable instructors will make sure that you understand everything you need to know on the first day so that you can apply this newly-acquired knowledge in the field on Day 2. Learn avalanche safety theory and master the fundamental avalanche skills in the field to become a safer skier! The classroom allows all students to maintain the required 2m physical distancing guidelines and cleaning is performed before and after every meeting room use, as well as during every break.
3-Day Hybrid AST Level 1 Course
The online course is specifically designed to address the ongoing pandemic — it is ideal for those with busy schedules and you can access it from the comfort of your home. The course and your certified instructors will help you understand and recognize the perils of the backcountry and prepare you for any challenges that you may chance upon. Learn avalanche safety theory online and on the third day, head out in true backcountry and put the newly-acquired knowledge into practice.
Day 1 (and Day 2 for the Hybrid AST Level 1 Course)
The In-Person and Private courses start off with a course in a classroom location and last from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm, whereas the Online Course is organized on the Zoom platform and is split into two sessions, on Wednesday and Thursday evenings from 6 pm to 9 pm. Before the course begins, you will watch a 30-minute interactive pre-course lesson and a video, and take a pre-course quiz. The day will end with a debrief along with homework, some handouts and a resources list. The topics you’ll cover during this part of the course are:
- Snowpack: crystals & layers
- Environmental factors in avalanche formation terrain
- Avalanche hazard mitigation
- Avalanche danger resources
- Human factors
- Equipment and companion rescue technique familiarization
- Pre-trip planning & avalanche bulletin/avaluator
- Decision making competence
Day 2 (Day 3 for the Hybrid AST Level 1 Course)
In the outdoor portion of this AST Level 1 course, you’ll get a chance to apply your newly-acquired knowledge in Whistler’s true backcountry. The guide will lead a short briefing (discussing current conditions and weather) and everyone will perform a gear check. After that, you’ll head up the mountain. The day will end with a quick debrief and a discussion on what steps you can take after you’ve completed your AST Level 1 course. Your guide will explain and show you the following topics in depth:
- Trailhead procedures
- Companion rescue
- Avalanche terrain travel
- Snowpack and/or avalanche observations
- Snowpack tests
- Avalanche terrain descent
- The field day begins at 8:30 am and lasts until 4:30 pm.
Meet your guide
Mountain Skills Academy
ACMG/IFMGA Certified Guides
I took AST 1 from MSAA in Whistler – had a great time and learned a ton. Kurt and Tim were fantastic classroom instructors – direct, patient and not patronizing or bro-y. Rob was our instructor in the field and again, was super passionate about the subject and very clear with instruction, feedback and direction. He answered all questions thoroughly and made the experience relevant to each of our experience levels. I highly recommend the crew at MSAA – the office crew is awesome as well!! Thank you all!
The AST1 exceeded all my expectations. It provided us with a ton of knowledge and expert advice on how to be safe in the backcountry and ended up being super fun as well. On the field day, our instructor Josh was incredible. He fostered an amazing learning environment and brought the whole group closer together with his engaging teaching style. I could not recommend this course with Josh highly enough. I will definitely be back for my AST2.
I had such a great experience with the AST 1 course in Whistler BC . Sara, our instructor, was knowledgeable and a thorough teacher introducing our group to backcountry mountain safety. I highly recommend Mountain Skills Academy. I will definitely be taking more courses from MSA when I am ready to go to the next level.
I took the AST Level 1 for Skiers and Riders. As an avid snowshoer, I felt the need to finally learn how to analyze the snow pack, terrain and how to rate avalanche danger. Jon, our instructor, had a great way of sharing his knowledge in those 2 days and being a patient leader while I was handling a splitboard for the first time. This course definitely left me with a richer awareness for snow covered mountainous terrain and the impact humans have. Thanks to everyone involved!
We did an AST 1 with Mountain Skills Academy in Whistler. John guided our classroom and field day and he explained everything really clearly. What was even better was that he tied everything together really well in the field to match what you had learned the day prior.
I loved that our guide didn’t just hand out answers but instead asked us lots of questions making us think and answer for ourselves, it was clear that we weren’t going to leave the course without actually understanding what we were learning. In the practical aspect we were asked to demonstrate what we had learned and explain it.. we used all kinds of additional safety measures and “prop” styled reminders such as cardboard check lists which were provided for us.
At the end of the AST 1 I left feeling that regardless of the fact I don’t know lots about the back country I can at least make informed, safe decisions out there and I know what to avoid at all costs.
For anyone who is thinking about an AST (or thinking you don’t need one, you do) I’d recommend Mountain Skills Academy highly! I didn’t feel you could pack more into the course and I didn’t feel like I was overloaded. The course is a perfect mix of class and field, lesson and understanding.
Further, I’d love to thank Laura at the office who was incredibly helpful and truly just lovely. She talked me through everything over the phone and gave us options which suited our needs directly. She didn’t skip over anything and she made us feel welcomed to book.
My whole experience with Mountain Skills Academy was fantastic and I will certainly book all future courses with them too.
Thank you MSA – our whole group were stoked with what we got!!
Things to know
Covid measures in Whistler
57hours is committed to providing safe outdoor adventure experiences. We require all guides using our platform to have a COVID-19 safety plan and to make the details of that plan accessible to travelers. In most cases, group sizes will be reduced, guides will avoid overcrowded locations, and other safety measures will be met depending on the location and activity.
We also expect clients to respect local regulations and take measures to protect themselves, guides and the communities they’re travelling to. For more information on COVID-19 measures in Whistler, BC, please refer to the Tourism Whistler website.
Please contact us if you have any questions or require further information. We are happy to provide you with the most up-to-date information!
What you get in this adventure:
- An experienced, certified guide with extensive knowledge of the area
- A classroom day or online classes
- 30-minute pre-course interactive lesson and video
- A full day in the field
- Avalanche Skills Training Level 1 certificate (upon successful completion)
- A Companion Rescue Field Card acknowledging completion date at course end
- Avaluator booklet and Avaluator slope assessment field card
- Canadian Avalanche Association mandatory student fee
- Use of snow study kit with thermometer, crystal screen and loupe
What’s not included:
- Technical backcountry ski touring equipment
- Food and snacks
- Lift ticket (unless you already have a Season Pass, Edge Card or Epic Pass) $50 USD
How fit do I need to be?
In order to get the most of this adventure, you need to have a moderate level of fitness. You will be on your feet for a full day. You will need to manage controlled descents in variable conditions. All participants should feel comfortable on challenging blue or black level resort runs and be able to carry a loaded daypack while skinning up variable degrees of terrain.
Prerequisites: You need to be at least an intermediate skier seeing as you’ll need to be able to ascend moderate slopes using skins. All participants should be comfortable traveling in snow while carrying touring gear. You should also have an average level of fitness.
What equipment do I need to bring?
For technical backcountry ski touring gear, you will need to bring:
- Alpine touring skis or splitboard with skins and bindings (can be rented)
- Touring boots and poles (can be rented)
- Avalanche safety equipment (can be rented):
- Digital, 3-antenna avalanche transceiver or beacon
- Lightweight snow shovel
- Avalanche probe
For personal items, we recommend bringing:
- Sunglasses or ski goggles
- A warm hat/toque and balaclava
- Wind and waterproof shell jacket with hood (Gore-Tex recommended)
- Ski pants (Gore-Tex recommended)
- Down or synthetic insulated jacket or vest
- Synthetic or wool base layers, underwear and socks
- Mid layer fleece top
- One triple-action locking carabiner or two conventional locking carabiners
- Repair kit and Leatherman for your equipment (can be shared between several people)
- Water bottle and 1L of water
- Thermos with a warm beverage — optional
- Food you can eat on-the-go
- First-aid kit with blister kit
- Daypack large enough to carry all items listed (around a 25-35L backpack)
- Pen, paper/notebook, face mask (for Classroom Day)
- Laptop (for Classroom Day) — optional
- Map, compass, GPS — optional
- Camera — optional
Can I rent equipment?
All mandatory gear can be rented if you don’t have your own. Your guiding service has teamed up with local rental companies to provide discounted rentals.
Ski rental locations are in Whistler and should be picked up the night prior to your outing. If you need to rent gear, let us know and we can help make arrangements.
Group sizes and age requirements
Group sizes and pricing:
- For the group courses, the max client to guide ratio is 8:1.
- Cost is per person and it doesn’t decrease as the group grows.
- For the private course, the max client to guide ratio is 8:1.
- The cost for the private course is per person and decreases as your group grows, making it a perfect opportunity to learn with your friends and family!
Courses in Whistler, BC, can be arranged for larger groups. Contact us to make arrangements.
Min. age requirements:
- If you are older than 19, you’re good to go.
- Minors may be permitted to join private tours on a case-by-case basis.
- Guests under the age of 19 must have a parent or legal guardian sign the waiver on their behalf.
If your group has skiers under the age of 19, contact us prior to booking to make arrangements.
Getting there and meeting location
To get to Whistler, most people fly into Vancouver International Airport 1.5 hours from Whistler. From there, you can rent a car or take a shuttle service.
Once you and your guide agree on the details of your itinerary, your guide will suggest the best place to meet, whether that’s at the guide shop or a predetermined location. If you’ve opted for the in-person course, you’ll head to the guiding company’s classroom location. Note that the nearest parking for this course is located at the Whistler Day Lots, a 3-minute drive from your guiding service. For the field day, the guide will choose the appropriate terrain dependent on conditions and the ability of the group.