CAF soldiers in Bow Valley backcountry for avalanche, ski training
The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) was back in the Bow Valley for another bout of adventure training.
About 20 CAF personnel from the 41 Canadian Brigade Group – which is Alberta’s army brigade reserve – began their Feb. 26 to March 4 tour into Canmore, Kananaskis Country and Banff National Park with two days of avalanche skills training, which they needed during a backcountry ski tour to end the excursion.
“The purpose of it is to have a physically and mentally challenging exercise for the soldiers, also working on their teamwork and communication skills,” said Capt. Simon Li, an administrative officer with 41 Canadian Brigade Group. “They’ll be in a small group working on their backcountry skiing, which does have military applications as well.”
The group was based out of the Alpine Club of Canada’s Bow Hut for two nights, beginning Wednesday (March 1-2). Where they went from there was dependent on avalanche conditions and the advice of Yamnuska Mountain Adventures, which guided the backcountry expedition.
Most of the soldiers who took part in the training are not experienced in backcountry ski touring, Li said.
“We’re basically getting a bunch of soldiers out there doing something that’s new and relatively unfamiliar or uncomfortable to them. They’re being challenged to not only pick up a new skill but to work as a team and do something outside their comfort zone, communicating and working as a team through that,” he said.
“That teamwork aspect is really the biggest benefit of this training.”
While in the backcountry, the group had opportunity to take in and enjoy the landscape, which was chosen for some of its challenging features and remote, wild feel.
There were no military or tactical scenarios incorporated into the exercise, Li said, soldiers are meant to solely focus on developing their skiing abilities, personal robustness and teamwork, while also using the knowledge they obtained during avalanche skill training to make smart decisions navigating the terrain.
In addition to some of the challenges the mountainous terrain presents, it was also chosen by the CAF for the volume of snow it sees at this time of year and the colder temperatures that support it. However, soldiers were in for a treat with temperatures lingering at a high of around 0 Celsius in the Bow Valley area throughout last week, according to Environment Canada. Recent snowfall also made for good skiing conditions.
“We wanted to conduct this at a time when there is lots of snow obviously, but this was planned months ago so we didn’t choose this week because of the snowfall or temperatures – that’s just luck,” Li said.
The CAF was in the Canmore-area conducting adventure training in 2021, when they sent soldiers out ice climbing, snowshoeing and backcountry skiing.
While it may sound like a leisurely time in the mountains, the training which personnel receive can be lifesaving in situations that call for it.
Adventure training aims to develop leadership and other important qualities in CAF members by engaging them in challenging outdoor pursuits. The training is intended to enhance their performance during times of both peace and armed conflict, when they may be called upon to serve.
The 41 Canadian Brigade Group is an army reserve formation of the 3rd Canadian Division and is headquartered in Calgary.
Most of the present-day soldiers serve part-time, while maintaining full-time jobs, studies and families. Whenever the CAF Regular Force requires reinforcement for international deployments, including NATO and United Nations missions, reserve soldiers stand ready to serve Canada.
They also serve local Canadian communities in domestic operations, such as forest fires.
Made up of nine units and a brigade headquarters, the 41 Canadian Brigade Group has about 1,700 reserve soldiers in Calgary, Edmonton, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Red Deer, and Yellowknife, N.W.T.
Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Rocky Mountain Outlook