Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Training and Certification for the Wilderness Program: How We Stay Safe While Having Fun.


WP instructor setting "traditional"
climbing hardware.
The Wilderness Program at Saint Mike's is not only an organization with a high level of student engagement but a fully-functioning guiding service, with access to state-of-the-sport equipment and professionally accredited instructors. As a result, applicants to the Instructor Training Program (ITP) are vetted extensively before they're accepted into the ITP, and again before they are ultimately selected as senior instructors.. This evaluation process includes training and assessment in outdoor living and group management skills, completion of both a fall and a winter skills session, as well as successful completion of both a Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course and a Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course. Beyond this, there are also opportunities to gain nationally recognized professional certifications in climbing, paddling and skiing through the program.

Climbers can pursue the American Mountain Guide Association Single Pitch Instructor (AMGA-SPI or SPI) certification; for climbing trips with the WP, it's required that at least one SPI instructor is present. The AMGA SPI program requires a demonstration of personal climbing skills on intermediate terrain, including ground-up leading of climbs using traditional, removable protection. In addition, there are numerous teaching, group management, and rescue skills assessed.

For paddlesport instructors, there's the option to pursue multiple levels of certification from the American Canoe Association. Students are trained and assessed in both River Kayak (Whitewater) and Coastal Kayak disciplines up to Level 3. Their training takes place over 4 days and then they put their newly learned skills into practice over a season working with other instructors and then return at the end of the season for a 3 day assessment. Like climbing, for every paddling trip we send out, it's required that at least one instructor leading the trip be ACA certified.
AIARE trail rescue training
In order to guide for the program, backcountry skiers and boarders need to complete an in-house Backcountry Ski/Ride guide training and assessment facilitated by an AMGA certified Ski Mountaineering Guide, and complete an American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE) Level 1 Training which prepares them for travel, decision making and incident management in avalanche terrain. This is completed over the course of three days, and is part-classroom, part-practice. The training includes extensive route-finding practice, the assessment of avalanche risk, and the use of beacons and other tools for finding missing persons, as well as how to gauge potential avalanche hazards in the backcountry. This certification is conducted at the start of the spring semester, and is required for instructors who lead backcountry ski/ride programs.

For the purposes of the WP, the certifications required to instruct in the field are intended to equip instructors well beyond the problems they will likely confront in the field. The goal of this is to ensure that, rather than an instructor having to manage an emergency situation out of their control, potential accidents and emergencies will be well within the realm of the instructor's knowledge. As an added bonus, instructors themselves find immense value in the pursuit of these certifications, and enjoy the opportunity to pursue broader knowledge of guiding in their respective disciplines.

"Having completed the Wilderness First Responder course in May, I feel that I can actively manage a range of backcountry situations--from knowing the signs and symptoms of dehydration and hypothermia, to knowing how to improvise a traction splint for a broken femur. Unfortunately, I haven't seen too many broken femurs, yet." - Ben R.

On the SPI (climbing):
 "The value of the Single Pitch Instructor course and certification lies in the knowledge that once you have achieved it, you are prepared for anything that can happen in the single pitch environment of rock climbing...the confidence with which you can enter the single pitch environment which comes from being certified by the American Mountain Guide Organization is perhaps the most valuable aspect of the Single Pitch Instructor certification." - Peter B.

 On the ACA (kayaking/paddling):
"This summer I had the privilege to receive my level-2 ACA instructor certification for coastal kayaking. Previous to this experience I was fortunate enough to work with very experienced and qualified kayakers on developing my personal skills, as well as how to instruct others in any given environment. In August, I was finally able to spend a week putting what I'd learned into practice. I went through a personal skills assessment and an instructing assessment, and receiving the ACA has honestly been one of my favorite experiences so far with the wilderness program. It was a unique experience for me, since previously I was always used to being the person 'instructed'. I can't thank the program enough for that awesome experience." - Molly D.
On the AIARE (backcountry guiding):
"I got from AIARE a sense of safety in the backcountry...there's a lot more to know out there than just shredding the slope. AIARE made me realize the importance of safety when you're having fun." - Tom B.
Interested in the program? Come play with us! You can sign up for trips on the second floor of Alliot Hall in the WP office. There are still hiking and climbing trips this semester, and in the spring begins our ice climbing and backcountry skiing/boarding season. Until then, see you in the field.

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