Learning the hard way

Publisher's Note

As a lifelong skier, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and becoming friends with many that live, eat and breathe backcountry recreation. They are helicopter skiing guides, Cat skiing guides, backcountry touring guides and avid snowmobilers and most of them make their living keeping people like me safe and alive while enjoying our recreational backcountry pursuits.

In speaking with these experts over the course of the 2009/2010 winter, the message from all of them was a cookie-cutter response: “The British Columbia backcountry has not experienced an avalanche season like this one in decades, and the stability of the snowpack throughout the province is some of the worst in history.” The Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC) based in Revelstoke B.C., which broadcasts avalanche warnings and bulletins to the public in hopes of avoiding senseless deaths in the backcountry, has even stepped up their reports and warnings with this season’s snowpack anomaly.

So why is it that with all these experts walking on backcountry eggshells week after week, we saw large groups of snowmobilers being caught in huge slides in the backcountry? It seems crystal clear to me that the message isn’t hitting home with this group. Two hundred people parked at the bottom of an alpine bowl watching others “high mark” says to me that something’s seriously wrong with the avalanche education, or lack thereof, within the snowmobile community. Do many of these people simply lose their common sense when they jump on a snowmobile?

Only one week after the Boulder Mountain tragedy, we have another death a mere 30 kilometres away in Eagle Pass with people doing the same thing. Senseless deaths only kilometres from CAC Headquarters?
Hello people, what are you thinking?

After 19 snowmobile-related deaths in Western Canada last winter, most by avalanche, you’d think the message would hit home. I guess not.

Just because you have an avalanche transceiver, a shovel and a probe doesn’t mean you’re safe in the backcountry. It takes years of education and experience to forecast snowpack and avalanche danger and it’s up to each individual to educate themselves about the risks, dangers and hazards before you hit the backcountry.

Sledding in the backcountry is no different than skiing or boarding. Ask yourself, “Am I aware of the consequences or the avalanche dangers associated with the snowpack conditions and the terrain I’m exposing myself to?” If the answer is, “I’m not really sure,” then you’re going to eventually learn the hard way and kill yourself or others with you.

Next time you’re with your buddies sledding in the backcountry, ask yourself this. “Should I pin it up that bowl to see what this machine can really do or should I ride the meadows today and make sure I get home to tuck my kids in bed?”