Backcountry savvy

Photo contributed by Aaron Cooperman

Photo contributed by Aaron Cooperman

With Sun Peaks’ easy access to backcountry terrain, avalanche safety knowledge is something everyone should equip themselves with.

The first step powder seekers need to take is to sign up for an Avalanche Safety Training (AST) course. Even entry level courses help students make informed observations, and thus smart decisions, about backcountry travel.

Once armed with avalanche training, local research is essential. The Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC) website is the number one source to help skiers, snowboarders and sledders make educated choices about when and where to recreate, and when to avoid the mountains.

“People tend to think that when they duck under the rope they’re not really going into the backcountry, but as soon as you duck the ropes, you’re in an uncontrolled snow pack and you might as well be in the middle of the Yukon,” explains Karl Klassen, public avalanche warning service manager for the CAC. “It’s all about choosing the right time and the right place to exit the ski area. That kind of information is available from our forecasts, which we put out daily for 12 regions across the province.”

The CAC’s bulletins provide information including which aspects and elevations may have snow weaknesses or avalanche potential in different regions. All of this information can be found at

Here at home, Sun Peaks Resort Corporation (SPRC) is implementing avalanche safety measures in preparation for the expansion of the ski area boundary.

“We’ve always employed a snow safety program,” writes Jamie Tattersfield, mountain operations manager for SPRC. “This year though, we’re implementing an augmented snow safety program that will include stability forecasting done here (on the mountain).”

Klassen recommends anyone looking to experience backcountry touring take a look at the forecasts available, and get local beta from the ski patrol.

Once you’ve done your homework and decide that it’s safe to venture into the backcountry, being equipped with the proper gear is essential to your trip. Many skiers will dig through their gear drawer and pull out the transceiver, probe and shovel they’ve always used, but be sure to take a look at what you’ve got as technology has changed a lot in the past 20 years.

The frequency used in transceivers has changed from 2275 hertz to 457 kilohertz — a frequency that’s considered more reliable. Also, the number of antennas that are standard within transceivers has risen to three, making it easier to pinpoint a buried signal.

“The (457 kilohertz) frequency is the one that is least likely to be interfered with by other devices, like phones or radios, and also was chosen because it has good penetration through snow and objects,” explains Klassen. “Triple antenna digital receivers further the ability of the device to interpret the signal for you and start to tell you more clearly what you need to do to find the signal.”

Newer technology is more advanced to help you in a situation when you need it most. And, even though the old gear might still be shiny and looking new, grabbing your old 2275 Hz ‘Pieps’ and heading out can be dangerous and may leave you unequipped.

The CAC warns, too, about using technology that hasn’t passed rigorous testing, like the Smartphone transceiver apps.

“Not only are these new apps incapable of connecting with other avalanche transceivers, they’re also incompatible between themselves, so one type of app can’t find another,” explains Gilles Valade executive director of the CAC.

When venturing past the ski area boundary, avalanche safety professionals recommend bringing a transceiver, a probe, a shovel and even a balloon pack, just in case the unthinkable happens. However, they stress that being proactive and doing your research before you head out is more important than any backcountry gear you may have.

So, have a plan and take a look at what you’ve got. If your equipment doesn’t meet the safety standards, consider your Christmas wish list taken care of.

Click here to find the CAC’s forecast in your region.