BC Coroners Service
BURNABY – A group of agencies with a mandate for public safety are joining together to provide information to help British Columbians stay safe in the backcountry during the upcoming winter season.
Representatives from the BC Coroners Service, Environment Canada, Parks Canada and the Canadian Avalanche Centre are highlighting the risks and stressing the need for proper planning, equipment, training and monitoring of weather and snow conditions before venturing into the backcountry.
“Research looking at coroners’ statistics shows that an average of 10 persons die each year in B.C. while engaged in winter activities like skiing, snowboarding or snowmobiling,” says chief coroner Lisa Lapointe. “Another 15 or more persons die each year from hypothermia or exposure to cold. These are numbers we all need to work together to reduce.”
Peter Marshall, public avalanche forecaster with the Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC), notes there are some bright spots on the horizon. “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.”
Marshall says the goal of the CAC is to ensure that everyone going into mountainous backcountry carries essential safety gear and knows how to use it, has taken basic safety training, and knows how to check bulletins for weather and avalanche risk before heading out.
David Jones, warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada, notes that weather in B.C.’s backcountry can turn nasty fast.
“Calm, clear weather can quickly deteriorate into blowing and drifting snow with driving winds and near-zero visibility,” Jones said. “Those venturing into the back country need to ‘know before they go’ and check the forecasts specifically for backcountry areas, not just for the nearest large cities. “
Grant Statham, mountain risk specialist for Parks Canada, stresses the need for checking avalanche terrain ratings along with the weather forecasts. The Mountain National Parks comprise 23,000 square kilometres of wilderness in the B.C. and western Alberta mountains, with Parks Canada providing avalanche terrain ratings for more than 350 specific backcountry tours and climbs.