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A story about the unsatiated self.


I stood in the middle of the 93 North Highway, one of the most scenic drives in the world, surrounded by icefields moulded between majestic mountains and jagged cliff faces. Skis were slung over my shoulder, digging through my thin nylon jacket. Traffic was non-existent and I grasped the moment to revel in my recent descent, my legs still burned from turns supported by splashes of powder. The sun was intense and an avalanche broke free and slid down a steep run towards the road, bringing me back to the present. More came, sounding like exploding fireworks and I swivelled in place to spot cascading snow chasing gravity to valley bottom.

This is Mother Nature at her most brilliant, unpredictable and unsatiated self.

I knew to not turn my back on Her. I was safe.

Across the valley, a month later, my group had just finished a picnic lunch at a wide pass. We were rolling over the edge when we triggered a size 3 avalanche. The snow moved and dropped, kicking my skis out from me and I fell hard onto an ice layer. I lifted my head and watched the avalanche continue to grow as I struggled to gain control of my shaking body. Nothing pinned me down, but it was as if I’d been tranquilized and couldn’t get up fast enough.

Thankfully, my friends skied out from the bottom.

We were safe. It was the third avalanche that season that caused my team to reassess and they all shook me to the core.


In the backcountry, we are a team out there. It is not only about carrying the right gear – beacon, probe and shovel – It is knowing how to use them and not getting into situations or places we shouldn’t be. I have my AST 1 and 2 and pride myself in speedy beacon practice and rescue scenarios, but I had never been put to the test. I realized laying on that frigid crust, I still had a lot to learn. How did we set off an avalanche?

I had the opportunity to meet with my friend Pancho, an International certified mountain guide who also develops avalanche forecast programs. We were sitting in his backyard when Pancho told me that you essentially only need two ingredients for an avalanche; snow and terrain angle.

“It’s a fight between friction and gravity. Who wins that fight depends on a lot of conditions that are difficult to assess. This includes the type of ground, like rock or grass, and what kind of layers are present in the snow. Anything that changes the balance of the snow-pack is a potential trigger for an avalanche.”

Pancho went on to explain how avalanches can occur naturally because of weather and temperature, but they can also be caused by someone’s presence, whether it is from backcountry skiing, snowshoeing or sledding.

He then leaned back in his patio chair, bundled up in a red down jacket and said,

“It can really mess up a nice day.”

I wondered if he was thinking of personal experiences. Living in the mountains for long enough, we all, unfortunately, know someone the community has lost to an avalanche. When they hit that close to home, the reality is real, and we become fully aware it could happen to us.

Pancho then looked me in the eye, tapped the stack of avalanche safety books beside him on the picnic table and declared,

“There is so much knowledge available now to make safer decisions.”


I asked how folks should be prepared to go out in the winter. He smirked, because he thinks I also know the answer, but I personally wanted to hear what he’d say. Pancho grew up in Chile and began climbing at 12 years old. His life has been filled with skiing, rock climbing, high altitude and in his modest words, some first assents here and there. He’s been on remote expeditions where no one has been before. He’s also guided for decades internationally and has the highest accreditation one can obtain in avalanche safety. So yes, of course, I wanted his opinion.

“When you are going out in winter, you need to think about you and your groups safety. It’s cold. The days are shorter. Night arrives quickly and then on top of all of that are avalanches. The best way to avoid avalanches is to avoid avalanche terrain. But how do you know how to avoid that if you don’t know what to look for? Sometimes the avalanche terrain is high above. And up there, it is so different than valley bottom. How safe is it to cross an avalanche slope? Is the risk worth taking or not?”

“Rather than giving the answers right away, I like leading people to find the answer. In my courses, I have you come to the decision of which way we are going up. What do you think would be a good route down and why? Is this particular terrain on the avalanche exposure scale? The more informed you are, the better decisions you can make."

"Otherwise you might not know how close to dying you were.”

I will admit, that class 3 avalanche stopped my skis for a long time. Each time I thought of putting myself back in those winter mountain situations, I flashbacked and panicked. I personally chose to get back up there by hiring my own mountain guide to team up with my friends and I on a five day wapta icefield traverse.

Ultimately, I love backcountry skiing. I love route finding in a white out, frozen homemade power bars and warming up with hot cocoa. I love roping up with my team to cross a field of crevasses, being there for them and being a part of something bigger and better. It’s another way to explore and feel the pockets of serenity in this big wild world. Perhaps now more than ever, we need that in life.

We were safe.

I’ll leave guiding steep backcountry skiing to the experts like Pancho. Yet, I choose to never stop learning so I can use advanced knowledge and experience to make safer decisions in avalanche terrain, whether I'm cross country, backcountry skiing or snowshoeing with my family and guests. The freedom to go out in the winter and make choices, based on skills, allows us to discover a wonderland covered in snow, thus uncovering more about ourselves.

Which trust me, is magical.  


Big Nature Guides are ready for a day of cross country skiing, fatbiking and snowshoeing in deep snow. We can help you learn about avalanches while staying out of avalanche terrain. Stay safe out there. Call us


Avalanche Safety Courses: If you plan to get out in the steep backcountry - Then please sign up for a Avalanche Safety Course. It is the right thing to do.

Avalanche Canada: Get to know this website for backcountry information with an interactive map and avalanche forcasts.

Written by: Katrina Rosen

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