A snowmobiler points toward an avalanche on the Monashee mountain range in B.C.

A snowmobiler points toward an avalanche on the Monashee mountain range in B.C.

Groups working to educate on avalanche safety

An average of 10 people a year die in B.C. each winter as a result of avalanches.

An average of 10 people a year die in B.C. each winter as a result of avalanches.

Another 15 or more succumb to hypothermia or exposure.

This year a group of agencies — the BC Coroners Service, Environment Canada, Parks Canada and the Canadian Avalanche Centre — are working together to highlight the risks and stressing the need for proper planning, equipment, training and monitoring of weather and snow conditions before venturing into the backcountry.

“Know before you go,” said David Jones, meteorologist with Environment Canada. “Weather in B.C.’s backcountry can turn nasty in a hurry.

“Calm, clear weather can quickly deteriorate into blowing and drifting snow with driving winds and near-zero visibility.”

Grant Statham, mountain risk specialist for Parks Canada, stressed the need for checking avalanche terrain ratings along with weather forecasts.

Public avalanche forecaster with the Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC) Peter Marshall noted there are some bright spots on the horizon, however.

“There has been a steady decline in the number of avalanche fatalities over the past four years,” Marshall said. “This is especially significant as the use of the winter backcountry has increased significantly during that period.”

In the Cariboo-Chilcotin, many people enjoy the freedom backcountry skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling has to offer.

Mark Savard, local avalanche expert, said it’s all about preparation and following a simple set of rules.

He recommends anyone seriously considering spending any amount of time in the backcountry to take the necessary Avalanche Skills Training (AST) course, which is offered at a level one and level two degree.

“I’ve been steering people to Smithers and Bear Mountaineering because you get to go out and do some practice,” Savard said, noting currently no courses are being offered in the Williams Lake area.

“There’s just so much good information out there for the public to use. And never assume anything. You could be standing on a five-degree slope with steeper stuff above and get hammered. Everyone should know how to perform a rescue and practice, practice, practice. It’s more than just saving yourself. If you are prepared you could save others.”

Savard said locally there’s more risk of avalanches west of the Fraser River due to its colder, drier and windier weather.

“It can be pretty gnarly,” he said. “But a lot of the areas we ski regularly it’s generally consistent. The snow pack is bigger, which you would think would be more dangerous, but the snow bonds together better.”

Craig Evanoff, owner and head instructor at Dezaiko Alpine Adventures in Prince George, also offers the AST. His next course is coming up on Jan. 11 at Pine Pass/Powderking and can be registered for by calling 250-962-5272.

To help better prepare people for the backcountry Environment Canada and the Canadian Avalanche Centre have issued a fact sheet with several steps to follow:

1.) Speak to an Environment Canada meteorologist four to seven days prior to your departure available at 1-900-565-5555 or 1-888-292-2222. The organization’s Pacific Storm Prediction Centre offers one-on-one consultations with a professional meteorologist. Twenty-four hours before departure call to consult again.

2.) Check for special weather statements issued three days prior to your departure. Special weather statements are intended to advise the public of unusual or inconvenient weather conditions.

3.) Warnings issued 24 hours prior to your departure. Environment Canada is the only agency authorized to issue weather warnings. Visit http://weather.gc.ca/warnings/?prov=bc.

4.) Ensure everyone going into mountainous terrain in winter has essential avalanche safety gear — transceiver, probe and shovel, and knows how to use it.

5.) Ensure everyone has at least basic training in recognizing avalanche terrain and moving safely in the environment.

6.) Ensure everyone travelling in the backcountry checks weather and avalanche bulletins before heading out. Then choose appropriate terrain for the conditions of the day.

Essential Mountain Gear

From the Canadian Avalanche Centre:

Essential gear is the equivalent of a PFD on a boat or a seat belt in a car — the basic stuff that everyone needs. Although you buy them separately, think of the Transceiver-Probe-Shovel as a single piece of gear — two out of three isn’t good enough. Every person needs all three parts.


Avalanche transceivers are small electronic devices worn by all members of a team. When traveling, everyone sends out a radio signal; in the event of an avalanche those not buried switch to search mode and follow the signal towards a buried person. Transceivers have changed dramatically over just the past few years and innovative developments continue to appear.

Amongst three antennae digital transceivers, the fastest search times are posted by people who practice. Practice is more important than brand!


Transceivers get you close fast, a probe is how you actually find someone.

Probes are like sectional tent poles that snap together. An assembled probe inserted in the snow in a systematic pattern lets you physically pinpoint someone under the snow so you don’t waste time digging.

Probes vary in length, stiffness, and materials, which translate into differences in weight, durability, and cost.

Generally, the smaller diameter the more they’ll bend and deflect. Carbon is light and strong (with a sufficient diameter) but more expensive.

The locking mechanism and line are quite important: you want a reliable and durable mechanism and a cable that doesn’t stretch (slack means wear, tear, and breaking).


You think shoveling is straightforward? Think again and check out the V-Conveyor Strategy. Good shoveling technique can save you tens of minutes if you’re trying to get someone out of a 150 cm deep hole! But you need the right tool — not all shovels are created equal!

What makes a good shovel? Obviously lightweight, but you have to balance that with strength. It has to fit in your pack, but within reason bigger is better. Plastic isn’t good — plastic breaks in cold temperatures and hard avalanche debris! An extendable shaft is important. A flat top that provides a platform for stepping on is valuable when chopping blocks.


Avalanche airbags reduce the severity of the effects of being in an avalanche by reducing burial depth (or even preventing burial) and facilitating rapid localization. They also help with visibility and may provide some degree of trauma protection. There are three manufacturers making airbags for the North American Market: Backcountry Access, ABS and Snowpulse.

Just Posted

Bella Coola Valley. (Scott Carrier photo)
Nuxalk Nation closes recreation, sports fisheries at Bella Coola due to COVID-19 concerns

Nobody is supposed to be travelling, said marine use manager Peter Siwallace

Michelle Jacobs receives her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Coast Capri Hotel on April 28, 2021. The pop-up clinic was hosted by the First Nations Health Authority. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
126 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

There are 22 individuals hospitalized due to the virus, and 13 in intensive care

A Cariboo Regional District director and School District 27 trustee, Angie Delainey is also a fourth generation business owner in downtown Williams Lake. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Angie Delainey appointed Cariboo Regional District representative on regional board

Delainey and Steve Forseth represent the CRD at the North Central Local Government Association

Pauline Schmutz, 75, receives her COVID-19 vaccine from public health nurse Donna McKenzie on Tuesday, April 13 at the community clinic at Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake campus. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Additional COVID-19 vaccine clinics scheduled for Horsefly, Big Lake

Anyone 18 and over who has not received a vaccine yet is encouraged to register

The Cariboo Regional District. (Angie Mindus photo)
Industrial park slated for Watch Lake Road

Building company Omnitek to start building new plant on 32-acre site

An avalanche near Highway 1 in Glacier National Park. Avalanche Canada will benefit from a $10 million grant from the B.C. government. (Photo by Parks Canada)
Avalanche Canada receives $10-million grant from B.C. government

Long sought-after funds to bolster organization’s important work

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A prowling coyote proved no match for a stray black cat who chased it out of a Port Moody parking lot Friday, May 14. (Twitter/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Little but fierce: Cat spotted chasing off coyote by Port Moody police

The black cat is seen jumping out from under a parked car and running the wild animal out of a vacant lot

The top photo is of a real carbine rifle, while the bottom photo is the airsoft rifle seized from a Kelowna man on May 15. (Contributed)
RCMP issue warning: ‘Imitation firearms need to be dealt with responsibly’

A man brandishing his airsoft rifle in public had his weapon seized by Mounties on Saturday

Abbotsford Regional Hospital. (Black Press Media files)
Canada marks 25,000 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began

6 in every 10,000 Canadians died of COVID-19 since March 9, 2020

Relief is coming for B.C.’s struggling tourism sector. (NEWS file photo)
B.C. officials set to announce more support for tourism sector hit hard by pandemic

Non-essential travel is restricted between three regional zones in B.C. until at least May 24

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Nathalie Emmanuel, left, and Vin Diesel in a scene from “F9.” (Giles Keyte/Universal Pictures via AP)
The blockbuster movie is making a comeback this summer

Excitement in the industry is growing again for a return to a big-screen normal

Sicamous RCMP Sgt. Murray McNeil and Cpl. Wade Fisher present seven-year-old Cody Krabbendam of Ranchero with an award for bravery on July 22, 2020. (Contributed)
7-year old Shuswap boy receives medal of bravery for rescuing child at beach

Last summer Cody Krabbendam jumped into the lake to save another boy from drowning

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry update the province’s COVID-19 vaccine program, May 10, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays below 500 a day over weekend

14 more deaths, down to 350 in hospital as of Monday

Most Read