The AMGA Ski Mountain Guide Certification Exam, Rogers Pass, BC

Every Canadian I met and told what I was doing here asked, "Why aren't you doing this in the States?"

Sigh.  Great question.  The smart-ass in me wanted to remind them that Canada is America's greatest national park.  I wasn't sure they'd find that funny.

The thing is, the International Federation of Mountain Guide Associations (IFMGA), which sets the standards for the exam, requires it to take place on glaciated terrain.  In the Lower 48, that means Washington, but all of the glaciers sit in wilderness zones - made even more remote by the lack of winter access.  So if the weather shuts down in Washington, it really shuts down.  That leaves us with Alaska - not bad, but the possible venues are becoming predictably, and the higher-ups in the AMGA were wanting a bit more variety.  And so we found ourselves in Rogers Pass, sleeping and eating at the Glacier Park Lodge, skiing outside our front doors.

Results will be posted in three weeks!

Somewhere north of the border in the middle of the 9 hour drive, I was starting to get a little glazed over.  Still, I had it easy - other candidates had traveled from Maine, Wyoming, and California to be here!

I reached Rogers Pass and the Glacier Park Lodge just as the sunset.  It was also just as the weather moved in - this was my last view of the alpine for the next five days.

Finally, six days later the skies cleared.  But it was the day before the exam, so Liz, Nick and I took an easy climb up for the view.

The North Face of Mt MacDonald.  Yes those couloirs have been skied.

The Asulkan Valley behind and Rogers Pass below.  Rogers Pass is apparently the most avalanche threatened maintained road in North America, and possibly the world.  The Canadian Defense Forces use the winter avalanche control work as artillery practice, and an elaborate but effective system of permit zones ensure that skiers don't stray into an area that's under fire.

Day 1 of the exam:  Crevasse Rescue.  In 45 minutes, a candidate (in skis) has to arrest a fall, then build an anchor and transfer the victim's rope to that anchor, rappel down to take the victim's pack and skis, climb the rope back out, build a mechanical advantage haul system, and pull the victim out.

Day Three - a traverse up the Lily Glacier, across the Swanzy Glacier, and up to Saphire Col.

Vince, Tim and I on the summit of Castor Peak.  Now Peter just needs to guide us back down to the Col, then ski us out the Asulkan Glacier.

Day Four - Youngs Peak and the Forever Young Couloir.  I'm proud to get to guide this steep, committing couloir immediately over Evan's head.  He's also carrying a third ski, belonging to a fellow who had been caught in an avalanche on the NW Face a few days earlier.

Tim and Peter are a little bit thrilled to have skied the line.

Day Six.  Our ambitious attempt to ski the lower steps of the Seven Steps to Paradise were thwarted by clouds and high wind.  Here Tim is guiding the group back to the Asulkan Hut after a hasty retreat from the Pterodactel.  We eneded up skiing laps in the trees below here.

Day Seven may have brought better skies, but moderate winds all night bumped the avalanche hazard up.  Today was another trees skiing day, until the weather began clearing up on the last lap and we just kept climbing.

Improving weather gave us incredible views like this one of the North Face of Mt Cheops.

One examiner and four very happy candidates at the top of the last run of the exam.  I'm not sure if it was physically possible, but it sure felt like we were smiling a lot bigger 1200m down!  (L-R) Evan Stevens, Peter Douchette, Silas Rossi, Tim Brown, and myself.  Photo | Silas Rossi