Avalanche Canada issues safety message for Alberta snowmobilers

Over the past five years, almost half of snowmobile-related avalanche victims were from the greater Edmonton area

Local snowmobilers talk about safety in the mountains with Brent Strand of Avalanche Canada during a recent trip to Clearwater Sno-Drifters' West Raft cabin on Raft Mountain northeast of Clearwater. Pictured are (l-r) Mike Casey

Avalanche Canada

REVELSTOKE: Spring may be around the corner but avalanche season is far from over. March is the deadliest month for avalanche fatalities and Avalanche Canada is focusing its safety message on Alberta’s snowmobilers.

• Last year, 15 people died in avalanches; 12 were snowmobilers.

• Over the past five years, 45 people were killed in avalanches; 24 of them while snowmobiling.

• All of the snowmobiling accidents over the past five years occurred in B.C.; two-thirds of the victims were Alberta residents.

• Of those Alberta residents, 73 per cent were from communities within 150 km of Edmonton.

• All these victims were male.

“Unlike other user groups, snowmobiling avalanche fatalities are showing a clear pattern,” explains Gilles Valade, executive director of Avalanche Canada. “When we see such a cluster in terms of place of residence, it raises a concern that our safety messages aren’t reaching the people who clearly need it most.”

Curtis Pawliuk is the general manager of the Valemount and Area Recreation District, a popular snowmobiling destination for Alberta riders.

“Far too often we see terrain choices that simply do not fit the conditions,” says Pawliuk. “These people are getting lucky. While the snowmobile community has come a long way, we need to start seeing greater buy-in and respect for the hazards of the backcountry.”

“An Avalanche Skills Training course is the first step for anyone recreating in the backcountry,” adds Valade. “More than 8,000 people take this training each season. Unfortunately, less than 15 per cent of these students are snowmobilers. Convincing more sledders to take this training where they will learn safe travel techniques for avalanche terrain and how to self-rescue is a significant goal for Avalanche Canada.”

Everyone in a backcountry party needs to have an avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel. For current avalanche conditions, check www.avalanche.ca. For information on training, click on the “Learn” tab.


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