Active Living Education

Elkford’s town slogan is, “Wilderness Capital of B.C.” With this slogan in mind and the ever-growing outdoor adventure culture, Elkford Secondary School (ESS) students are often out in the mountains during their Physical Education (PE) classes, connecting their learning to land and place. Students are introduced to outdoor recreational activities with the intention that this will lead to future participation in local physical activity. As living in a mountainous community and participating in various recreational pursuits in/near the backcountry has its dangers, learning about safety and injury prevention practices are also a central focus of the program. 

This year, PE students headed to Fernie Alpine Resort to enrich their backcountry education with some hands-on training. Students were met by Morgan Couch, a Fernie Ski Patroller who was their avalanche education mountain guide for the day. Morgan took students to Fernie’s very own Avalanche Transceiver Training Area, where students ran through waist deep powder, following their transceiver signals to their simulated victims and then trying to find a “probe strike,” signalled by a light and a siren going off. Students experienced the need for practice and teamwork for speedy recoveries of victims in an avalanche. 

Students then skied to the “New Side” Ski Patrol Hut. Here, Morgan pointed to avalanche signs and dangers while students identified dangerous crowns and breaks in the snow. Students also observed patrollers ski cutting the Curry Head Wall, testing snow stability by trying to trigger an avalanche by skiing over and jumping on questionable snow. Students were also given some behind the scenes education. They were shown an avalanche cannon, used by patrollers to shoot explosive projectiles into the mountain side to trigger avalanches. Students also met Megan Kelly and her dog Fenix and learned about the role and education needed for an avalanche dog and handler. Students were able to see the dangers of the backcountry and how their mountain is kept safe.

Ending the day, students headed down the mountain towards the Falling Star run. Stopping off to the side, they began digging snow pits, designed to examine the differing characteristics of the snowpack. With direction from Morgan, students created flat clean walls to their pits, looked for snow layers, as well as poked their fingers into the snow walls to feel the differing snow densities. They also learned and experienced how to cut columns into the snow with a saw, and how to tap the columns with their shovels to identify weak layers. This was a great opportunity for them to truly feel and see their learning. 

This intrinsic learning experience was not only in the community but supported by the community. From individual community members who lent their avalanche gear to the class, to local groups (Elkford United Steel Workers, Elkford Lions Club, Elk Valley Thrift Shop) who covered the transportation costs, and finally Fernie Alpine Resort Summit Fund for funding the costs of tickets, rentals, and the ski patrollers’ time. 

Thank you to all who participated and supported this community place-based learning adventure.