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January 2022

Intro to Snow Safety with Ascent FV Guides & VPO Abbotsford

Written by: VPO Abbotford with the help of John Valecko from Ascent Fraser Valley Guides

Disclaimer: this is not a certification

Before we dive into some tips, it is important to remember that exploring in the backcountry in winter conditions has unique risks. This resource is not extensive and does not cover all the aspects of winter hunting and avalanche skills.

If you are planning to explore the backcountry in winter conditions we highly recommend taking at least an Avalanche Safety Training Level 1 (AST 1) course.


Preparing and Planning for your Next Winter Adventure


Topographical maps, popular trails sites, and Google Earth can be helpful in planning out your route. Keep in mind that all of these sources will be out of date, whether it is by years or days. Your final route decisions should be made when you have the route in front of you, even if you have travelled that trail many times before.


Know the weather forecast for your planned trip dates, and the next 2-5 days following. If you get trapped in the backcountry, especially during winter, it is important to have an idea of what to expect. Knowing the weather for the previous few days can also help you make more educated decisions about the snowpack.


Make sure you have someone who knows your trip itinerary, including:

  • Where you plan to park and where you plan to be in the backcountry
  • When you plan to leave and when you plan to be back
  • Who they should contact if you have not updated them by your check-in time (e.g. family, local search and rescue/police, etc.)

GEAR: The Big 3 (+1) and the 10 Essentials

THE BIG 3 (+1)

The Big 3 are the tools you NEED to have and know how to use when travelling in Avalanche terrain:

  1. Avalanche Beacon (transceiver)
    Communicates with other beacons to narrow the search for someone buried in the snow

  2. Avalanche Probe (recommended 320cm)
    Used to locate a person burried in the snow

  3. Snow Shovel
    Used to dig someone out of the snow. Also used for snowpack testing and shelter building

+1: Satellite Communication
While not part of the Big 3, a Satellite Communication Device (inReach, Zoleo, etc) has become a staple in many backcountry adventurers packs. A Satellite Communication device not only lets you call for help in an emergency, it also lets you communicate with your home contact if you are running behind or your situation and plans change.


Here is a quick list of the essentials for ANY outdoor adventure. These items below should be accounted for in everyone's pack on every

  1. Food
  2. Water
  3. Shelter
  4. Navigation
  5. Sun Protection
  6. Insulation
  7. Illumination
  8. First Aid Kit
  9. Fix-It Kit
  10. Fire Starter

Regardless of what gear you choose, make sure you are FAMILIAR with it and KNOW HOW TO USE IT. A piece of gear is only as useful as the user is skilled at using it.


Sample Pack List (From John Valecko of Ascent FV Guides):

  • Probe, shovel, headlamp, spare batteries, candles/waterproof matches or lighter, down jacket that just lives in the backpack, extra layers, extra gloves, knife, small roll of duct tape, first aid kit, satellite communication device, snow science kit, saw, small section of cord, water, food, sunglasses, sunscreen, and an emergency bivy.

Avalanche Safety Training:

Avalanche Safety Training courses are a great way to improve your backcountry skills and increase your safety on your winter adventures. We recommend that EVERYONE heading into the backcountry during the winter and exploring terrain that is not avalanche controlled should take AST 1.

Learn More

Ascent Fraser Valley Guides

Ascent puts on AST Level 1 and Level 2 courses every year, along with many other backcountry skills courses. Check out their full course listing here:

One of the best resources for checking Avalanche conditions in BC. There are also lots of educational resources including upcoming ASP courses and how to refresh your skills.

Use this site to check road conditions, weahter forecasts, and road cams near the region you are planning to adventure. It can be especially useful in regions where does not have much data.

Local Outdoors Stores

Our staff are often out adventuring, so come in, chat, and we will give you the update on our latest adventure.

Social Media

One of the best ways to get the latest conditions from someone who just went out and explored the route you are planning on taking. Note that this can change at any time so don't rely on it solely.

Valhalla Pure Outfitters

Valhalla Pure Outfitters Abbotsford