MEADOW CREEK – It was a field trip of epic West Kootenay proportions for Selkirk College Ski Resort Operations & Management Program (SROAM) students.
In late-January, first-year SROAM students had the opportunity to visit Selkirk Snowcat Skiing to complete their Avalanche Skills Training Level 1 (AST I) course and capture an inside look at an operation that brings guests from across the planet for the ultimate wilderness ski experience.
“To see the look on these student’s faces when we first let them out of the snowcat at the top of a mountain is priceless. They come from all over Canada and the world, and many have never before been exposed to the mountain environment on this scale,” says Martin Keyserlingk, the Selkirk College faculty member who ran the students through the AST I course. “It’s very rewarding to expose these keen students to the world of backcountry skiing, avalanche skills, safe travel and companion rescue. It all plays an important part of the overall ski industry — especially locally here in BC.”
Keyserlingk is a veteran ski industry guide and consultant who has owned and managed backcountry snowcat and heliskiing companies. The day at Selkirk Snowcat Skiing saw Keyserlingk and SROAM instructor Ross White run the 20 students through mock rescue drills, snow safety analysis and terrain assessment.
“I knew nothing about the avalanche safety portion of the program coming in,” says student Jason Ellis, who arrived to Selkirk College from southern Ontario. “I had no insight and never had to deal with it. I have never been catskiing, I have never been in a snowcat, so the experience for me was super eye-opening in terms of what you need to watch for in avalanche territory, but it was also super fun. I have never gotten up that high in snow that champagne powdery… it was pretty cool.”
Students in the two-year Selkirk College SROAM diploma program spend the first three semesters of their studies based out of Nelson’s Tenth Street Campus where they are introduced to the diverse career opportunities available in the industry.
From snowmaking and ski area construction to marketing and management, students are given the educational base that prepares them for a final semester that includes a 21-week paid work term at ski resorts across Canada and internationally.
“All the instructors in the program know what they are talking about because they have been in the industry long before they started teaching,” says student Ethan Goldstein, who moved from Vancouver to take the SROAM Program. “There is a lot of really good information coming from really reputable sources. You know that everything you are learning is super relevant.”
Students take part in several field trips over the course of their first year of studies. Taking advantage of the location in the heart of mountain culture, the class spends time at operations close to home like Whitewater Ski Resort and Red Mountain Resort, but also travel to locations across British Columbia and Alberta to experience a diversity of industry-related outings.
The day at Selkirk Snowcat Skiing is always a highlight of the year for students. Owners Paul and Megan Osak, invite the class to not only conduct the AST I training, but provide a glimpse at the operation in its entirety including the maintenance, lodge, guiding and marketing aspects of running one of the world’s most renowned outdoor adventure destinations.
“It’s hard to contain your excitement when you are going up in one of those cats,” says Goldstein, who has found an unexpected passion for the operations side of the industry which he plans on now putting a focus on. “The Selkirk Snowcat Skiing trip was an unreal day, absolutely unreal. I feel pretty lucky and privileged to be able to learn the Avalanche Skills Training course in an area like that.”