Avalanche deaths rise, B.C. tops list

Shandro shows students how to examine the snowpack. | PHOTO sUBMITTED


Big lines in the backcountry are a dream of many skiers and snowboarders. Pick up almost any ski magazine and the cover photo features fresh lines, billowing snow and bluebird sky as the ideal day on a mountain.

What isn’t pictured as part of that epic day is you or one of your friends being caught in
an avalanche.

In the 2015-16 winter season 17 people were killed in avalanches in Canada, higher than the average of 13 annually. B.C. had the most fatalities since 2006 at 102; the next highest province is Alberta at 14.

Bodie Shandro is a heli-skiing guide and ski instructor who teaches Avalanche Canada skills courses and his own mountain skills camps at Sun Peaks to give skiers and snowboarders the tools to make safe decisions.

“It’s a continued learning process for me,” Shandro said. “It’s recognizing the industry has romanticized and promoted the backcountry but the missing link is education.”
When I joined Shandro on a two day Avalanche Skills Training (AST) level one course in December I wasn’t sure what to expect, but his passion for educating others was clear immediately. It’s the most basic course offered but the content was important and tailored to our experiences.

As part of the first day we watched videos of people caught in avalanches or buried under the snow struggling to survive. The room of students was completely silent as Shandro let the reality sink in — when you go in the backcountry you’re taking risks.

Shandro said he likes to use videos to demonstrate that avalanches are a serious and
scary reality.

“Hopefully it creates fear and subsequently respect for what Mother Nature can do.”
The rest of the course was full of information to help students make safer choices. Types of avalanches, terrain, weather, trip planning, and rescue techniques were all covered.

“You don’t know what you don’t know,” Shandro said, a mantra repeated often in his courses. “My goal for everyone taking an AST course is that they look at the mountains in a new way.

“Instead of thinking of 10 reasons why you would shred that slope, come up with just one why you should not and back off if you do.”

Courses offered this season have filled up fast. On Jan. 21 and 22 Shandro will host another full AST 1 course as a part of Avalanche Awareness Days, a national celebration of avalanche safety in Canada with events spread across B.C., Alberta and Quebec.

For those who can’t attend, he recommended taking one of the other courses offered throughout the season. Spaces are available in a Mar. 4 and 5 course.

“First, get educated. Get some training, do at least an AST for fundamentals. Then get the gear,” Shandro said. “So much of it is about the education, not just having the gear.”

For more information on AST courses visit avalanche.ca, to contact Shandro email bodie@paddlesurfit.com or call 250 318 0722.