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Advanced Ski Guide Course: Reflections from RMI Guide Kel Rossiter

Mountaineering and music have much in common to share. When we consider music, we often think of pleasant noises combined together to make song—but it is precisely the silence between those bits of noise that make music more than simply a frantic crashing of sound. So too, it is with mountaineering: much focus is given to the getting up the mountain, but it is the descent that gives it meaning. You can no more have a successful climb without a descent than you can have a front without a back. And adding the mode of skiing to that descent provides an additional aesthetic beauty to that project. During early-April I had the opportunity to explore and expand my understanding of the ski mountaineering aesthetic through the American Mountain Guides Association's Advanced Ski Guide Course. This ten-day course is the follow-up to the twelve-day, introductory Ski Guide Course (which I'd completed in 2015) and is the precursor to an eight-day Ski Exam. With the benefit of RMI's commitment to the professional development of its guides, I was able to attend the Advanced Ski Guide Course in Thompson Pass, Alaska. Thompson Pass in Alaska's Chugach Range contains mountains beyond mountains. Thompson Pass is part of the storied Chugach Range, the setting for more extreme skiing videos than perhaps anywhere else on the planet. Jagged, flat-iron peaks are flanked with row upon rows of steep and deep powder couloirs that spill into massive glacial basins, with easy access provided by the Richardson Highway running through it, connecting the port town of Valdez with the rest of The Last Frontier. This makes it the perfect place for the Advanced course. Whereas the introductory Ski Guides Course focuses on safely moving groups through backcountry avalanche terrain and finding the best skiing along the way, the Advanced Ski Guide Course brings in the components of safe travel on glaciers (e.g., navigating in white out conditions, avoiding crevasses, dealing with crevasse rescue, etc) and managing skiers in technical mountain terrain (e.g., roped travel through steep rock and snow, belayed entry into steep terrain, effective group management in narrow couloirs, etc). The training covered a variety of techniques for safe skiing in steep terrain including belayed skiing. But there's more to it than just the technical aspects—because, after all, in ski mountaineering the focus of climbing a peak goes beyond just the joy of standing on the summit—there is the consideration of finding the most enjoyable line to ski on the way down. Having completed AMGA certifications in Rock and Alpine Guiding, I'm versed in the technique and mindset needed to successfully climb large objectives, and that mindset could be generally summed up with the word “efficiency”. Moving into the world of ski mountaineering has been an exciting shift of paradigms, working to also incorporate in the concepts of “aesthetics” and “enjoyment”. In the world of alpine climbing, enjoyment is often seen as what you experience upon completing the goal, standing on the summit and coming back down safely. In the world of ski mountaineering, standing on the summit is a necessary pleasure before the true pleasure of ski descent can be attained. A greater focus on both product and process that I'm finding increasingly attractive. The training covered a variety of techniques for safe skiing in steep terrain including crevasse rescue. I'm not the only one finding this product and process increasingly attractive: backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering is among the fastest growing segments of the outdoor world. And RMI is at the forefront in developing programs to help its audience enjoy the sport. RMI Guide Tyler Reid leads ski descents of Europe's highest peak, Mt. Elbrus, and explores Chile's renowned skiing with RMI Guide Solveig Waterfall. In 2018, I'll be doing a Mt. Baker Climb/Ski as well as a custom ski/climb program. RMI, long at the lead in helping climbers reach their summit goals, now has a range of excellent ski options to ensure that the descent is both safe and extremely rewarding. For a look at some of my other experiences with backcountry skiing, ski mountaineering, and the AMGA Ski Guide program, check out these links: • Mammut Athlete Team Blog about my ski experiences in the Alps prior to the Ski Guides Course. • RMI Blog post about my experiences in learning snow science during the American Avalanche Institute's Level 3 Avalanche Course. RMI Guide Kel Rossiter

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