Alpine Finishing School

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It’s amazing what all can be accomplished in a span of a weeks time and the evolving friendships that ensued. Some of these ladies I feel like I’ve known for a lot longer than a week. I wish I had time to expound on each day’s adventure, but there are just too many stories to unpack. All in all, it was an incredible experience I feel blessed to have shared with each one of these women and I will take it with me for the rest of my life.

Introductions

Once we finally got past the awkward introduction phase, I felt a connection being made with each girl at different points in the journey. It was a sweet reality to have considering I was bit nervous going in to such a spontaneous investment of a trip with 14 strangers. For all I knew, this was one of those sports I usually found myself as the lone girl hanging with the guys. This time it was an all girl’s party.

Upon our first evening together as group, I noticed a lump in my throat. As I first walked into the room full of women I felt like all eyes were starring at me. In that instance, I felt the fear of the unknown. What have I gotten myself into now. It didn’t take long though for the mood to shift, the ice to be broken, and my fears were quickly thrown out the window.  This group of women represented so much more than I thought could be possible for such a strong dynamic group of people all coming from very different backgrounds.

Prior to our departure out of Revelstoke, Amy, McKenzie and I went exploring in the forest. We were planning on doing a ski tour, but it turned in to a hike because there was no snow.

Amy finding balance on a fallen tree in our path

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We couldn’t help but wonder what the snow conditions were like just beyond those mountain peaks. Hopefully better than here!

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Heli Takeoff  

Nope, the heli never gets old.  We were picked up at the heli pad, from there we traveled through a narrow canyon which opened up into this glorious winter wonderland. With in minutes we were surrounded on all sides by ice fields and glaciers.AlpineFinishingSchool-5845

I spy Justice Glacier

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All the pictures I had seen leading up to this trip were coming to life. Then there it was. That red roof. The Selkirk Lodge, our home away from home for the next week of life.

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The Dynamic Trio

Fortunately for us, we had 3 awesome female guides. Our legendary guide, Diny Harrison was the first North American female to be certified as an IFMGA guide. She brought a wealth knowledge and experience as well as whole lot of spunk. She never fell short of providing humor to the group on a daily basis. It was a privilege and honor to learn from her.  Kate Duvine was an encyclopedia of information. At a mere 26 years of age, she is one of the youngest female guides in North America, and already has a ton of backcountry mileage under her belt.  She was someone we could relate to and also look up to. Christine Feleki was our ‘tail guide’. She was patient, cool, and a calm presence which made learning fun and easy.

Diny Harrison, Kate Devine, and Christine Feleki all in their proper guide fashion

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Claire

As if she already didn’t do enough. Claire is the strength and glue that holds this program together. She also is a fantastic cook and worked hard every day to treat us with the very best of meals.  Since I love food, and cooking, it didn’t take long before I was in the kitchen shadowing her every move and learning from her fantastic gourmet food creations.

 

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Breakfast is served

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She jumps, she also dances!

There was never a dull moment with this crew. Every now and again Diny would randomly turn her iPhone music on. With in seconds everyone was busting a move. Diny had a dance routine all her own. It was fun hanging with women who could flip the switch and start dancing anywhere.

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Laughter

In a house full of women there is something very contagious that occurs, laughter. Not a day would go by where you couldn’t hear giggles echoing throughout the lodge and in the mountains. We were high on life in this beautiful place.

From left to right: Kate Devine, Claire Smallwood, Joanne Turner, McKenzie Temple, Diny Harrison, Stephanie Nitsch, Meaghan McRasy, Sierra Anderson, Michelle Brazier, Cristy Watson, Amy Robinson, Louise Lintilhac, Christine Feleki. And Abby Standford who is behind the camera.

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We practiced different ascension techniques from inside the lodge

Get it together Abby! 

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Kenzie still trying to figure out which goes first. It’s like patting your head while rubbing your stomach.

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Primrose Glacier

This was our every day skiing environment. Right outside our backdoor was Primrose Glacier.

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Dishes, Dishes…

Every night two girls were chosen for dish duty. Abby and I brought new meaning to ‘washing dishes’. If this had been a competition, we would have crushed it for ‘the most fun time cleaning’. We even came up with our own rap song during our scrubba dub dub sesh.  I think we might have made the other girls a little jealous. After all, everyone wants to clean with us!!

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The Poop House

The Selkirk Lodge has been running for 30 years, so it’s no surprise just how dialed in they were. From fetching water, to solar heating panels to even poop being recycled in the incinerator. This was a constant theme because every afternoon came the horrible stench of burning poop.

Somedays we would return from a long foray of touring, our stomachs growling in hunger for one of Claire’s marvelous feasts,  only to have our senses blasted with the smell of incinerating poop. Our imaginations quickly became stunted with the smell of poop in the air. My gag reflexes nearly won me over a couple times. Thankfully it was always short lived.

It’s all a part of the backcountry experience….leave no trace

The Poop House

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That book dangling in front of the toilet was the topic of many conversations. It’s called the “poop book” where people would open up about their ‘experiences’. Alright I’m going to stop right there.

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 Buckets

Every day we would have buckets to fill with snow for our water source. It’s amazing what a long way snow went. From this we were never short of snow or water!

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Cristy and Abby filling up our ‘water buckets’ with snow. Whenever there were empty buckets outside of the door, we knew to fill them up.

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Into the pots it goes

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A view from the throne

Lucky for us we didn’t have to go outside to pee as well. We could pop a squat on the porcelain throne while we watched the sun rise over the mountains.  We deemed this happy place to be the best view in the house.

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Navigation 

Do we look lost? We look lost. There’s really no better time to practice navigation than in a complete white out. Up on Primrose Ice field trying to make some sense of where we were. This is when the compass becomes quite handy.

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Here is Meaghan pointing out to Kenzie our invisible landmark. We enjoyed the humor in being totally lost.

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Practicing touring while roped up on the glacier

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The Sun Room

The sun room was a peaceful oasis for us to relax, do yoga, laugh, and just chat with one another about life.

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Queen of the Selkirks

According to my research, we were being served by the queen herself! These were the ladies of the lodge. Kate’s mother Grania, known as the ‘queen’ in these parts, and Kate’s aunt, (Granias sister) Reinet. They took great care in making sure the lodge was always clean and tidy. There is a lot that goes into keeping this place up to par. Thanks to these ladies, we always had a clean and cozy place to come back home to.

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My Photog Accomplice

I hit it off pretty quickly with this girl. Abby was our photographer, whom I eventually joined forces with and tag teamed many of our shoots. We learn to feed off of each other’s energy and inspirations. We not only ran on the same mental clock, but also the same bed time clock. It seemed that every night we would somehow end up going to bed later and later due to our heads getting lost in the stars, clouds, or some other random distraction related to photography. One night we were up messing around outside until well into the night. Of course that meant we were usually the last ones out of bed too.

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Heres an example of our midnight shenanigans

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Had a great time nerding out with this girl and I hope to get to shoot with her again!

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Our Bedroom Decor

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Michelle laying it over

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Daily Grace Award

JoAnne came up with the brilliant idea to have a daily grace award. Usually it was in conjunction with a very un graceful act. I might of made it on there once. We shared some pretty good laughs over this thing.

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After coming down from Primrose Glacier one day, we stumbled upon this blue iced beauty.

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Diny on her Thrown

Amy, our Acro yoga instructor, was always making people do funny things…like this

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Climbing to the top of Primrose Peak

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Party at the top of Primrose

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Christine savoring the view

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Time to Rappel!

Now which one goes where again?

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Setting up a crevasse rescue scenario

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Louise Building a T-Slot Anchor

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This was another constant theme…

Kenzie: “Get that camera out of my face!”     Me: “Get that finger out of my face!” 

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Class time!

Every day we had some form of class time inside where we would learn about gear, navigation, route planning, and avalanche awareness.

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Justice Glacier

It was our last day on the glacier. Of course Abby and I are the last ones to roll out of bed. I see her get up and peer out the window. It was a clear, sunny blue sky day. We could see the glacier from our window and every dimple in the snow.  ”Wow! Look at that!” Abby exclaims with excitement. Then under her breath I hear “I’m kinda scared”. It was a healthy fear and intimidation coming from her voice that we had been taught to have leading up to this.

After 5 days of learning about everything that can go wrong and how one could die on a mountain, falling in a crevasse, or being buried by an Avalanche; Safety is not to be taken lightly.

I feel like it’s every guide’s duty to scare the crap out of you first. That is until you’ve gained a ‘healthy’ fear’ of the potential power of the backcountry environment. I felt as though this was our ‘final exam’. We were all very excited. Every day leading up to today was a blast. Now it was about to get that much better. Paying attention to terrain was drilled into our minds all week. So naturally, looking at this terrain perked our attention. Crevasses everywhere, check. Seracs, Check.  Steep slopes, check. Other conditions to take into account was temperatures, weather, snow pack, and then of course the social aspect and paying attention to where everyone else was on the mountain.

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Stephanie basking in the morning sunlight

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Sun bathing on Albert Glacier

Our last big ski tour was HOT!!! Literally. Abby and I of course ended up in the back due to our trigger happy photographer fingers, and our massive packs with camera gear. We were all dripping in sweat on that skin up.

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Diny and Christine decided to join us.

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It didn’t take long to get a sunburn. After being on the glacier all day I realized I had burned the inside of my mouth. I didn’t even know that was possible! It felt as if my mouth had been scalded by hot water. Is there protection for this type of thing? Note to self…Shut your mouth when playing all day on a glacier field.

Mastering the “LASH” technique

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Starting the switchback up the ridge where the Albert and Justice Glacier conjoin

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Avalanches

We kept about 15 – 20 meters between us as we traveled across the ice field. As the day went on, temperatures were warming, and we could hear snow breaking and avalanches occurring in the distance. It was deep rumble that sounded like bombs going off and served as a constant reminder to us where we were.

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Enjoying some fresh turns on Albert Glacier

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Victory

Steph is all smiles coming off Justice Glacier

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Looking back at our line coming off Justice Glacier was a powerful moment. We had skied nearly 4 thousand vertical feet that day and we earned every one of those turns.

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Like a boss. Abby

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The Selkirks

And there goes a piece of my heart.

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Michelle, letting it all sink in

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Kenzie looking back at her time in the Selkirks 

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Our final farewell with everyone while waiting for our helicopter to arrive

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Diny giving us a goodbye thumbs-up as we fly away

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By the end of the trip, there was no holding back. The ice was cracked. Kenzie and I in full force embracing every second of our final minutes in the Selkirks.

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For being such a dynamic group of women with varying backgrounds and abilities we held together impressively well. Even when our tours got cut short or weather wasn’t always perfect, we made our days count for the best and didn’t lose sight of the bigger picture.

Adventure is accepting the journey with an unknown outcome.

Going into this, I wasn’t fully aware of everything I didn’t know. For me the expectation was to  make a friend, have a good time, and learn as much as I could. Although my natural instinct when putting on skis is to always want to charge down the mountain and huck off everything in site, this was a program built for something much more than that.

It wasn’t always about skiing the sickest line or staying ahead of the pack.

It was about learning how to manage risk and providing us with the tools to build our own safety protocols in the backcountry, while also having dance parties along the way. It was about building relationships in the industry. After all, there aren’t as many women doing this stuff so it was rewarding to be in the presence of so many passionate hearts getting after it. Lastly, it was an environment to ask any and every question. There was never a ‘dumb’ question, which made for an easy and safe atmosphere to learn in. To my own fault, I wish I had asked more questions. This however gave me a platform to recognize my areas of weaknesses and understanding.

I often found myself in the back of the pack with Diny. This time of touring with her was like having my own private guide. Her presence reminded me why I was there. Its often easy when you have 3 solid guides with you to just sit back and tag along for the ride with out really being fully present and aware of your surroundings. Every now and again she would make me pause, point out terrain features, and thus challenging me to be proactive in my observations.

I realize it’s going to take many more years of practice to get to a place of ‘conscious’ or ‘unconscious competence’ as our guides spoke about. I’m so thankful to have been a part of this program and I know that because of this, I am that much closer to achieving my goals.

Check out all the photos from my album here: http://www.thesierraanderson.com/albums/alpine-finishing-school/

About Author
A traveler, an athlete, a fisherman, a storyteller: Sierra Anderson currently pursues all her varied passions and acts as Executive Producer for her video production company, Fox Cape Productions, from her base in Seattle, Washington. Sierra is also the star of the reality TV series, Hook Line & SistersYou can find out more about her life and adventures at www.TheSierraAnderson.com
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