Canadian Ski Patrol celebrates 50 years of avalanche education

By Peter Spear, Life Member No. 14 (

Canadian Ski Patrol members in the Calgary area and across the country are informally celebrating 50 years of providing avalanche education to patrol members and the public.

It was in 1967 that a (then younger) Canadian Ski Patrol Life Member No. 14 Peter Spear teamed up with U.S. transplant Brad Geisler (CSP Life Member No. 8) to deliver avalanche courses at the Banff School of Fine Arts. Peter, a school teacher, had joined the CSP in 1962, while Brad, a former member of the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division and the National Ski Patrol brought extensive field and technical experience to the fore.

Peter in the early years (photo provided)

Curriculum materials for students, films, resource books, transparencies and scenarios were developed. Much of this evolved around U.S. and European publications.

Avalanche education wasn’t the only thing the two introduced to the CSP. In order to carry their avalanche gear (at the time a shovel and probe), as well as their medical supplies, they resorted to wearing backpacks. In order to do so, they had to obtain approval from the CSP national executive, as the only approved method for CSP members to carry their first aid supplies at the time was a waist pack. Now the use of backpacks by CSP members is almost completely standard throughout the mountains.

The origins of the CSP avalanche education program sprouted from CSP operations at Lake Louise, Alberta. Starting in the early 1960s, both Brad and Peter were members of this patrol. It has since been home to many leaders in the CSP’s avalanche programs.

Peter and Brad started the first use of avalanche-related weather instruments and measuring snow depths at Lake Louise. Brad taught weekend courses in Alberta from Castle Mountain to Jasper (Marmot) and Peter taught the same courses from Whitewater, B.C. to Prince George, B.C. on numerous occasions. They did all of this for 14 years before there was a Canadian Avalanche Association (CAA).

CSP national avalanche advisers from the Lake Louise CSP have included Brad Geisler, Peter Spear, Ted Simper, Gordon Ritchie (CSP Life Member No. 49) and the current advisor, Ken Lukawy. All have added to our knowledge of avalanche skills in Canada. This has been imparted to the CSP and beyond across Canada through a section in the CSP Patroller’s Manual, the development of public education courses that has evolved into the Avalanche Skills Training (AST) courses, SNOWSMART, and one hour public awareness courses. The SNOWSMART curriculum course for schools and the one-hour avalanche awareness courses are other CSP achievements.

The original CSP course, through Gordon Ritchie’s leadership, the CSP and the Canadian Avalanche Association, was used to jointly develop the Avalanche Skills Training (AST) public education courses administered today by Avalanche Canada. Last season 10,000 students took avalanche safety courses under the program. A truly remarkable legacy.

Peter Spear receiving the Mountain Division Life Member Award
(l-r) Sandra Williamson with Peter Spear (photo provided by Neil McKendrick)