Avalanche Canada, BC Search and Rescue, WorkSafeBC concerned about novice backcountry users and risk of avalanches
WITH the current limitations on indoor gatherings due to COVID-19, many people are heading outdoors this winter—including novices who have little-to-no experience in backcountry safety and risk assessment.
Avalanche Canada, BC Search and Rescue Association (BCSARA), and WorkSafeBC have partnered to urge the public, workers and employers to educate themselves on avalanche safety and preparedness before going out to the backcountry.
“Here in B.C. we have some of the most beautiful winter backcountry in the world, but the risk of an avalanche is also there,” says Gilles Valade, Executive Director of Avalanche Canada. “With this right to explore comes a responsibility—to yourself, your friends, and your family—to get avalanche training.”
This season, B.C. has already seen three fatalities related to avalanches. Ongoing closures on B.C. highways due to avalanche risk mitigation is a reminder that avalanches are a natural part of the winter mountain environment and, when conditions are right, can happen anywhere.
Preparedness is key. If a backcountry user is caught in an avalanche, a search and rescue (SAR) response can only take place after a safety assessment and possible control work are completed—meaning users cannot assume SAR will always be available.
That’s why Chris Kelly, BCSARA President says, “It’s critical that backcountry users know how to carry out an effective companion rescue. Everyone needs the proper gear and should be well trained in its use. The unfortunate reality is that survival rates drop dramatically after just 10 minutes of burial.”
Workers are also at risk of avalanches. In the past 10 years, WorkSafeBC has received 36 worker claims related to avalanches, including 12 serious injuries and two fatalities.
“We want to remind employers who have staff working in the backcountry that they must provide the proper equipment, processes, resources and training to their workers, whether they be employed in eco-tourism, hospitality, forestry, or recreation,” says Al Johnson, Head of Prevention Services with WorkSafeBC. “All workers who are exposed to avalanche terrain require an avalanche safety plan.”
Avalanche Canada’s website—www.avalanche.ca—provides a wide range of resources for backcountry users and the daily avalanche forecast is the first place to check when planning a backcountry outing.