American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education educator Caleb Merrill developed The Avalanche Hour podcast as a platform where people could share their stories of close calls or mishaps in the backcountry winter environment. In its fifth season, the U.S.-based podcast now has a guest host and co-producer from Williams Lake, B.C. (Photo submitted)

American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education educator Caleb Merrill developed The Avalanche Hour podcast as a platform where people could share their stories of close calls or mishaps in the backcountry winter environment. In its fifth season, the U.S.-based podcast now has a guest host and co-producer from Williams Lake, B.C. (Photo submitted)

Cariboo Mountains offer world-class adventures for backcountry enthusiasts

Wes Gregg of Williams Lake is training so he can teach avalanche safety in the region

Does the pandemic have you eyeing the backcountry?

A Williams Lake man hopes by sharing his own ‘humbling’ experiences as a backcountry skier it will help others learn from his mistakes.

“I don’t want people to take travelling in the backcountry lightly, but also not be terrified of it,” said Wes Gregg, who is working toward being an avalanche safety training instructor in the Cariboo region.

Recalling one particular self-rescue from an avalanche, Gregg said he thought he was making a good choice, but admitted he ‘clearly had a lapse in judgment.’

He did not understand what was happening with the snowpack and made some poor choices.

“When I got home that day, I basically told Amber, my wife, ‘this is the last time I come home and tell you I skied out of a sizable avalanche.’ It had happened quite a few times.”

That ‘last time’ was a turning point for Gregg. He resolved to learn more about avalanche safety and train so he could teach Avalanche Canada safety courses in the Cariboo region.

His own avalanche training began 13 years ago when he moved to the Cariboo and began ski touring with friends.

By taking the Avalanche Safety Training level one (AST1) course with Avalanche Canada he learned how to read avalanche terrain and do a companion rescue.

“A big part of travelling in the backcountry is not just recognizing terrain, but knowing what to do in the event of an avalanche and a burial,” Gregg said.

Read more: Avalanche Canada calling for user data amid backcountry business shutdowns

Before he and Amber had their two sons, he would go ski touring most weekends throughout the winter.

About four years ago, he and Amber, and one of their friends, took skills two level training with Avalanche Canada, which focuses on taking stock of touring identification, terrain management and safe route-finding for skiers venturing into the mountains without the luxury of having a professional guide.

“You touch again on the companion rescue,” Gregg said of level two. “It’s something that should be practised and done even when you aren’t on a course.”

Now Gregg is working toward his professional certification and will be taking an eight-day, level one operations course with Avalanche Canada in Smithers this coming January.

If he passes, he will be able to get his foot in the door as an avalanche professional, he said.

“As a level one, your responsibilities and roles are mainly as an observer doing weather observations and snow profiles. You basically shadow other professionals and are not certified to be a guide or anything, but it’s the first step.”

The operations course, however, will give him the certification to teach the Avalanche Skills Training 1 course.

With COVID-19 restrictions in place, Gregg said he thinks there will be a ‘huge’ influx of people venturing into the backcountry.

Gregg said the Avalanche Canada website is the best resource.

“There’s a system there called the mountain information network and it’s more important now than ever that anybody who is out touring submit to it because the operations within our area are going to be running at limited capacity.”

He encouraged people using the backcountry to share information because it will help forecasters generate more accurate information, which ultimately helps users make better choices.

Read more: Great weather, good company at Powder Kings’ family fun day

It is no secret that there’s backcountry skiing in the Cariboo, he added.

“Share a photo, share what the snow was like, share what the weather was doing. A report can be super simple, but that information means a lot and a picture of snow means even more for forecasters who are doing any sort of stability test.”

Originally from Ontario where he grew up skiing, Gregg was a ski instructor and freestyle coach for 10 years.

“I realized I missed the teaching aspect,” he said of another reason he’s excited about doing avalanche safety instruction.

An Avalanche Canada communications associate confirmed about 11,000 people per winter have taken Avalanche Canada training courses in the last three years.

Roughly 85 to 90 per cent take AST1 and about 10 per cent take AST2 and the rest is split between companion rescue skills and managing avalanche terrain.

Canadian correspondent for U.S. podcast series

Two years ago Gregg was thinking of starting an avalanche podcast series to interview guides and avalanche professionals about their experiences of mishaps and close calls.

He developed plans and had a concept and started doing some market research. He discovered The Avalanche Hour created by Caleb Merrill, an avalanche educator for the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education.

Right before COVID took its grip, Gregg reached out to Merrill through Instagram.

From there the two corresponded and eventually Gregg was interviewed for an episode.

“I had an open and honest interview with him regarding my previous experiences. A lot of time as men or women involved with incidences find it hard to talk about and accept mistakes that were made or things that happened,” Gregg said.

Eventually Merrill invited Gregg to do some interviews of his own for the podcast with people from Canada.

Gregg’s first interview, featuring Ontario ski guide Kyle Lamothe, was published at the end of November.

Merrill said Gregg brings a new voice and perspective to the show.

“During our first conversation, I remember him making mention of learning from reflection of his mistakes, trying to make good decisions in the mountains, encouraging good communication amongst his riding partners, and sharing information amongst his backcountry community.”

Merrill also credited Gregg for knowing way more than he does about audio recording and the production side of things.

“It seems like it’s going to be a great partnership. I’ve learned a lot from Wes just in the short amount of time that we’ve been working together.”

Gregg will be releasing a podcast every third Thursday of the month and has been lining up guests from the Prince George and Nelson areas.



news@wltribune.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Williams Lake

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Spencer Holland surveys the view while backcountry skiing with friends in the Cariboo Mountains the last week of November 2020. (James Kaufman photo)

Spencer Holland surveys the view while backcountry skiing with friends in the Cariboo Mountains the last week of November 2020. (James Kaufman photo)

Just Posted

Many members of the Williams Lake Cross Country Ski Club, not all of which are pictured here, volunteered their time to make the Bull Mountain family fun day happen during the 2019/20 season. (Patrick Davies photo - WIlliams Lake Tribune)
FOREST INK: Recreation information for Williams Lake and surrounding areas: part two

Community groups have been developing the Cariboo as a world leader in outdoor recreation

School District 27 superintendent Chris van der Mark. (Angie Mindus photo)
LETTER: We are seeing an increase in positive exposures in our schools

School District 27 superintendent Chris van der Mark pens a letter to families

Joyce Cooper (left) said she had to set an example for Tsilhqot’in communities by sharing her COVID-19 positive results. (Photo submitted)
Tsideldel off-reserve member documents experience of COVID-19

We should all be supporting one another and not judging each other, says Joyce Cooper

Do you have a Roses and Raspberries? Email editor@wltribune.com. Angie Mindus photo
ROSE: Thanks to all for assistance after fall

Thank you to the staff who responded quickly and kindly

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

From the left: Midway RCMP Csts. Jonathan Stermscheg and Chris Hansen, Public Servant Leanne Mclaren and Cpl. Phil Peters. Pictured in the front are Mclaren’s dog, Lincoln and Peters’ dog, Angel. Photo courtesy of BC RCMP
B.C. Mounties commended for bringing firewood to elderly woman

Cpl. Phil Peters said he and detachment members acted after the woman’s husband went to hospital

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

An Uber driver’s vehicle is seen after the company launched service, in Vancouver, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Several taxi companies have lost a court bid to run Uber and Lyft off the road in British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Taxi companies lose court bid to quash Uber, Lyft approvals in British Columbia

Uber said in a statement that the ruling of the justice is clear and speaks for itself

A 75-year-old aircraft has been languishing in a parking lot on the campus of the University of the Fraser Valley, but will soon be moved to the B.C. Aviation Museum. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
Vintage military aircraft moving from Chilliwack to new home at B.C. Aviation Museum

The challenging move to Vancouver Island will be documented by Discovery Channel film crews

Most Read