Mount Washington
Alpine Resort

Preparing for the worst: an Occupational First Aid course

Courtenay's North Island College helps you help yourself with first aid course


Courtenay's North Island College Occupational First Aid course
The Occupational First Aid course demands quite a bit of reading, but this information is more than well worth the effort.

COURTENAY, BC – Having moved out to the West Coast in early January, I now have only two things on my mind at any given time: exploring Vancouver Island and skiing as much as possible. Living within a stones throw of Mount Washington is an exciting contrast after growing up in Edmonton, where a weekend pilgrimage and at least a few cups of coffee were required before being able to ski anything other than a hill. 

But only two weeks after my arrival I found myself waking up early every weekday to practice controlling arterial bleeds through pressure points rather then strapping in skis. For a few weeks, skiing glades and racing down groomers were replaced by learning how to set and immobilize broken limbs and strap people into splint boards at North Island College.

Woefully unprepared 

After a near miss late in the 2010 season involving a tree stump and my friend on a snowboard, I realized that I was woefully unprepared to deal with any serious injuries should they occur on the mountain. Fortunately for my friend and I, nothing worse than a face full of snow and a sore knee came out of that experience, but the amount of fear and uncertainty that resulted from that moment forced me to re-evaluate my survival skills. Something needed to be done to remedy my situation.

Graced with a bit of free time early in 2011 (I’m taking an extended pow break for a few months), I registered for a 70-hour Occupational First Aid level 3 course at the North Island College in Courtenay, British Columbia. This two week course was designed by Worksafe BC as a means to get trained attendants capable of performing first aid out in the various industries in British Columbia. 

At the end of the two weeks, there is a written and practical exam and upon passing you’ll receive a certificate valid for three years that enables you to practice on worksites. It’s also one of the requirements to become a Snow Patroller at most mountains. 

This particular course includes the following: 

Courtenay's North Island College Occupational First Aid course
Among the skills you'll learn: immobilizing broken limbs and strapping people into splint boards.

- anatomy and physiology

- injury and body response

- resuscitation - oxygen therapy


- wounds and bleeding

- thermal, joint, spinal and eye injuries

- fractures, bandaging

- immobilization

- transportation

- recording and reporting accidents and injuries

A rewarding experience

As expected, the first day was an eye-opening experience. I quickly found out how woefully inadequate my knowledge of first aid actually was. The first ten minutes of class served as an introduction to my fellow students, most of whom were experienced loggers and construction workers, and then we dove headlong into the first two lessons: anatomy and primary first aid techniques.

Courtenay's North Island College Occupational First Aid course
The majority of your time is taking what you read and applying it to real-life scenarios.

After a quick lecture we were brought to the first aid room, where most of our time would be spent. Contrary to my initial belief (that the days would be spent between lectures and practicing), the expectation was set early that the required reading was to be done out of class (and would require 2-3 hours per night) and the majority of our time was taking what we had read and applying it to real-life scenarios. After the first few days, there was nothing more rewarding than reading a chapter on how and when to apply a proper tourniquet, and then having everything fall into place as you step through the process with the instructor the next day.  

By the conclusion of the course I was completely astounded by the amount of content we absorbed. After drilling through the scenarios, practical examples, and reading (enough to make a University student cry), I feel more competent than I ever have when it comes to first aid techniques.

Strongly recommended for all winter enthusiasts

To all winter sports enthusiasts – be you a skier, a snowboarder, backcountry hiker, sledder, mountaineer, or ice climber – I would strongly recommend, at the very least, a practical first aid course. Not everyone has the necessity or the time for a 70-hour course, but there are many other options available, ranging from level 1 certification that is done over the weekend to Pre-Emergency Medical Responder courses. There are even some courses that offer a unique Wilderness First Aid that cater to specific scenarios you might encounter when spending time outdoors.

As for me I now have the knowledge and skill set needed in case that near miss isn’t quite near the next time.

For more information on the first aid courses offered by North Island College, please visit this website. For a terrific story on the Calgary Outdoor Centre's Avalanche Skills Training course, check out this story.

NOTE: Sterling came to us as a fan first as a community leader over at our Facebook Fan Page. After recognizing his thirst for all things snow, we asked him if he'd be interested in acting as a local correspondent for us on the West Coast. This is his first piece, and he couldn't have chosen a more significant topic.

If you're interested in becoming a local correspondent with SnowSeekers, send along an email to If you're the right fit, and have some important things to say/show, we'd love to hear from you. There might be some snow-filled perks in there for you. 

Planning on heading to Mount Washington? Check out the Tourism Mount Washington website for more info on the options available to you

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