Mountaineering Essentials

This course is an excellent introduction to the skills required for moderate alpine objectives involving snow or glacier travel. Four days in the field cover all aspects of basic mountaineering techniques such as ice axe and crampon use, self-arrests, snow and glacier travel skills, rope handling, hazard assessment and crevasse rescue fundamentals. A peak ascent will be attempted if time and conditions permit.

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2024 Program dates below. Private dates also available, contact us for details on arranging a Custom Mountain Essentials course.
Pre Requisites:
Overnight backpacking experience and very good physical fitness. No previous technical climbing experience is required for this course.
  • The Mountaineering Essentials course is designed to build a solid foundation of the essential skills required for basic general Mountaineering objectives. This mountaineering course is held in the Coast Mountains of Southwest British Columbia, including 4 days/3 nights working from a base-camp in a remote alpine region, with all training being held in the mountains. Participants should be in very good physical condition and should plan for travel days up to 15 km's with between 500-1000 meters elevations gain in off-trail conditions.

    At the conclusion of this course, students will have the skills and knowledge to travel off-trail and into snow-covered and glaciated terrain above the treeline. Participants on the Mountaineering Essentials course 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 basic snow climbing
    • glacier travel techniques
    • alpine travel skills for moderate terrain and non-technical 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 Mountaineering Essentials courses are conducted at a variety of Alpine locations in the Coast Mountains of BC. Specific locations are chosen close to the course date, based on current conditions and weather forecasts. Typical areas include the Joffre Range near the Duffey Lake road; the Spearhead Range in Garibaldi Park behind Whistler; Sky Pilot area above Squamish; and, Brohm Ridge near Garibaldi Peak, above Squamish.

    Course meeting times and locations will be confirmed during the week prior to the start of the course and will be based on current weather and mountain conditions. Participants are responsible for all transportation to/from course locations.

  • Our 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 the planned schedule for the Canada West Mountain School 4-day Mountaineering Essentials 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-trip planning
    All course logistics and preparation are planned in advance in direct consultation with our office via phone, e-mail and/or in person. A comprehensive pre-course package is sent out to everyone well in advance of the course dates.

      Day 1
    • Meet at the trailhead - Preparation and gear check (1/2 hour)
      Skills covered: communication, safety awareness, gear check, weather conditions discussion
    • 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 2
    • Backcountry travel skills (1 - 2 hours)
      Skills covered: Navigation, pacing, group management, route finding, hazard awareness
    • Snow and glacier travel skills (6 - 8 hours)
      Skills covered: Introduction of snow travel basics, self arrests of all sorts, roping for snow and glaciers, belaying on snow, anchors, glacier travel, route finding on glaciers, travel techniques, crevasse rescue.
    • Lunch time options: Navigation, route planning, glacier study, napping
    • Evening debrief (1 hour)
      Skills covered: overview of day, next day's objectives, pre-planning, sort and pack gear for next morning, weather
    • Optional skills: Review and discuss crevasse rescue skills
    Day 3
    • Practice and refine steep snow and glacier travel skills, possible summit attempt (8-10 hours)
      Skills covered: steep snow climbing, team rope skills, navigation and route finding, glacier travel and rescue skills
    Day 4
    • Wrap up of loose ends (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)
  • 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), and review this article here - Boots for Mountaineering courses

    In order to best prepare for the weather, you should always plan for the worst which includes temperatures below freezing at night, and likely precipitation of rain and/or wet snow each day. Please ensure your clothing and gear is suitable for these conditions, even though it may be hot, dry, and sunny as well!

    Technical gear is listed on the Mountaineering Course Gear List. All technical gear is supplied if needed (with the exception of crampons), provided participants request in advance what they will be needing. Crampons 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. Crampons are available to rent at many outdoor stores such as MEC.

    In regards to communal gear such as tents, stoves, and cookware, due to Covid-19 concerns, we only encourage people to share tents and cooking gear/stoves if they are already sharing a "household/social bubble" with each other. If you are attending the course on your own, you will need to supply your own tent and cooking supplies for the program.

  • Questions about Mountaineering Essentials 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 Mountain Skills Essentials course conducted?

    How long are the days?