Alpine Skills

Our unique Alpine Skills program delivers 6 intensive days of pure alpine skills for those that already have experience rock climbing outdoors. Your previous rock climbing background allows you to focus on developing skills and techniques for alpine objectives on snow, ice, or rock. Time is spent in the alpine learning and applying technical skills – snow and glacier travel, ice climbing, alpine rock, crevasse rescue, mountain navigation, route planning, weather evaluation, and hazard assessment.

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2024 Program dates below. Private dates are also available, contact us for details on arranging a Custom Alpine Skills course.
Pre Requisites:
Previous outdoor rock climbing experience and proficiency with rope management skills; should be comfortable top-rope climbing 5.8. Overnight backpacking experience and good physical fitness.
  • The Alpine Skills course is the ideal course for anyone who is comfortable with the rope skills required for rock climbing. The emphasis of this program is to teach mountaineering skills and techniques to climbers who already have a rock climbing background. This course is very similar to Complete Mountaineering, though there will be more time spent learning and practicing Alpine-specific skills on this course as participants will already have the basic rope management skills such as knot-tying, belaying and rappelling

    At the conclusion of this course, students will have been taught:

    • methods for planning and preparing for a multi-day mountaineering objective
    • how to recognize mountain hazards, and methods of avoiding or minimizing those hazards
    • navigation techniques using a map, compass and altimeter
    • rope management skills related to rock, snow and ice climbing
    • glacier travel techniques
    • climbing and movement skills for rock, snow and ice
    • alpine travel skills for moderately technical terrain and glaciers
    • crevasse rescue fundamentals with a three person rope-team
    • Minimum Environmental Impact camping and travel practices
    • methods to practice and refine each set of skills taught on the course, on their own time
  • The first day of this course is typically spent in Squamish, BC to review rock skills, rope techniques and introduce rescue basics.

    The specific location of the Alpine portion of this course will be decided one week prior to the course start date, as there are many variables that need to be considered, including weather, snow conditions, previous experience of the group, and access conditions.

    For the 2023 season most Alpine Skills Courses will be conducted in the Spearhead Range behind Blackcomb Mountain out of Whistler, BC. This is an excellent venue for this level of training, providing quick access to alpine objectives and large glaciers. The access is via the Gondola on Blackcomb Mountain and is not included in the course fee. Current 2023 Whistler/Blackcomb gondola price is $90/person.

  • Each of our Alpine and Mountaineering programs are taught by some of the best climbers and Guides in Canada. All are certified by the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) and each one has a passion for teaching that will inspire you in your climbing pursuits.

    Visit Guides and Instructors Page for complete details and background on each of our Guide Team.

  • The following is a brief possible schedule for the Canada West Mountain School 6-day Alpine Skills course. Many different variables (such as weather, snow conditions, group experience levels, etc) influence the actual day-to-day schedule and the order in which topics are presented, so the following should be considered a general outline only.

    Pre-course planning
    All of the course planning will take place by phone, email and/or in person at our office in the weeks and days leading up to the course. You will receive a comprehensive package after you have registered, detailing all of the critical areas to plan and prepare for. Areas covered are equipment, pre-course training, menu planning, logistics and weather.

    Day 1
    Meet in Squamish - Preparation and tone setting (2 hours)
    Skills covered: introductions, course objectives, gear review, communication, safety awareness, logistics planning.
    Rock climbing and rope skills review (4 hours)
    Skills covered: rope management review, rope rescue, anchor building
    Menu planning and final packing (2 hours)

    Day 2
    Approach to Alpine region base camp (approx. 2-3 hours )
    Skills covered: Navigation, map reading, pacing, group management, route finding, hazard awareness
    Camp set up (2 hours)
    Skills covered: Camp selection, hazard awareness, sanitation, environmental awareness, food storage, water, campcraft tips
    Introductory snow travel session (3-4 hours)
    Skills covered: Hazard awareness, navigation, off-trail travel, basic ice ax use, walking on snow, self-arrests
    Evening debrief (1 hour)
    Skills covered: overview of day, tomorrow's objectives, pre-planning, sort and pack gear for next morning, weather
    Day 3
    Steep snow and alpine travel skills (8-10 hours)
    Skills covered: Steep snow climbing, navigation and route finding, possible summit climb
    Day 4
    Approach to site for glacier travel instruction (2 hours)
    Skills covered: Navigation, pacing, group management, route finding, hazard awareness, glacier study
    Introduction to travel on ice (1 - 2 hours):
    Skills covered: Crampon technique, ice screw placement, walking on ice, hazard assessment, anchor building, step cutting
    Glacier travel and rescue skills (4 - 6 hours):
    Skills covered: Rope skills for glacier travel, route finding on glaciers, travel techniques for "dry" glacier and for snow covered glacier, crevasse rescues, general glacier travel
    Possible extra skills: Summit climb, serac or ice climbing if conditions allow
    Day 5
    Peak objective/travel day (10 - 12 hours)
    Skills covered: Application of all of above plus what ever comes up. Focus on hazard assessment and use of skills/tools to achieve objectives. This is the "put it all together" day
    Day 6
    Morning wrap up of final course objectives (4 - 6 hours)
    Skills covered: Finishing off main objectives, ascending ropes, rappelling, more rescue, serac climbing, orienteering, whatever the instructors and/or students feel they need
    Break camp/hike out (3 hours)
    Skills covered: Navigation, map reading, pacing, group management, route finding, hazard awareness.
    Wrap up and student assessments (1 - 2 hours)

  • Please prepare your gear with the goal of reducing the weight of your pack as much as possible.

    Here is a link to our Mountaineering Gear list - Mountaineering Course Gear List

    Plan on using the same personal clothing and camping equipment that you would take on an overnight backpacking trip. Your Base Camp on the Mountaineering courses will often be in an alpine or sub-alpine location and exposed to the weather.

    You will be working each day in and on snow, so it is important to have proper boots suitable for snow travel. Boots also must be appropriate for use with general mountaineering-style crampons (See the FAQ section for details on Boots)

    As for weather, you should always plan for the worst which includes temperatures of close to freezing or below at night, and precipitation of rain and/or wet snow each day. Please ensure your clothing and gear is suitable for these conditions.

    Technical gear is listed on the Gear list. Students are asked to supply their own basic slings and cords, as these items may experience wear on each course. These items are available at outdoor stores such as MEC, Climb On, Valhalla Pure, etc. All other technical gear is supplied, with the exception of Crampons, which are required. There are many styles of attachment systems yet any general mountaineering crampon will work, as long as they are compatible with your boots and have front-points for climbing steep snow and ice ("Micro-spikes" or "Instep" hiking style crampons are not suitable).

    In regards to communal gear such as tents, stoves and cookware, we encourage people to share tents and cooking gear/stoves. If you already have a team or partner planned, this is great. If you wish, we can help coordinate this for you and put you in contact with other students - just let us know when you book your course.

  • Questions about Alpine Skills course

    What are the best boots for my Mountaineering Course?

    Do I need to bring special gear?

    What happens if the weather is not good?

    Where is the Alpine Skills course conducted?

    How long are the days?