The world's first free online mountain studies course will be offered at the University of Alberta beginning this fall.

Students anywhere can register for the Mountains 101 course, providing they have an Internet connection.  The course is offered in partnership with Parks Canada.

Many people don't realize the significance of mountains in their lives, says biological sciences professor David Hik, an instructor in the mountain studies department

"Whether you think about it every day," he said, "you don't have to see a mountain to be connected to it."

Lawrence Grassi

Climber Lawrence Grassi, circa 1920, stands on an unidentified peak overlooking Alberta's Bow River Valley. (Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies)

Hik said we are affected by the ecosystems through weather and rely on them as a source of water. 

"Mountains aren't just these elevated places on the planet."

The course includes 11 lessons for students to take at their own pace. It will be an interdisciplinary course taught by Hik and other professors in research fields, including glaciology, history and high-altitude physiology.

"When people go to the mountains they're excited about everything," Hik said. "They want to know what's that plant? What's that bird? Who came here first? Who climbed that mountain? Why is that an avalanche slope?

"We try to integrate all that because people are interested in the whole aspect of a mountain, not just one little part." 

Two Jack Lake

A view of Two Jack Lake in Banff National Park is shown in this undated handout. (Canadian Press)

The course coincides with a plan for the university to collaborate with other researchers around the world. The university hosted a workshop this week with faculty across Canada,  government representatives from Yukon and the Northwest Territories, and representatives from First Nations.

The goal is to better understand the challenges of changing mountain environments, Hik said.

"People always talk about what is happening in the Arctic, but things are changing just as quickly in other cold places like mountains."  

glacier

Students in mountain studies learn about glaciology as part of the interdisciplinary course. (youtube)