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Safety in the Snow: What You Need to Know

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The following tips have been written for British Columbia residents so they can stay safe while enjoying the outdoors in their own community.

By Avalanche Canada

For many, winter in British Columbia means going into the mountains to snowshoe, hike, ski, snowmobile, or simply get outside in the snow. No matter what activity draws you to the mountains, winter brings a different set of risks, including the risk of avalanches. It’s important to plan ahead to avoid the potential avalanche dangers that winter brings to BC’s mountains, whether you’re new and sticking to valley trails or an experienced recreationist enjoying steep backcountry slopes.

Anyone venturing into the mountains in winter should be thinking about avalanches and how to keep themselves safe from them. Here are some of our top tips for staying safe from avalanches while playing in the snow. We hope they enable you to enjoy the beauty of the mountains safely and free from avalanches.

 

Reviewing the terrain at Hankin Hut near Smithers, British Columbia, Canada | Northern BC Tourism/Mattias Fredriksson

Staying Safe Starts at Home

Your backcountry journey should start before you set foot on the snow. Will your trip take you into avalanche terrain? What dangers and what challenges might you encounter? Tools like Google Earth, FATMAP, and Avalanche Canada’s Online Trip Planner, can be helpful in understanding what sort of terrain your route includes before you leave the house.

You should also check the avalanche forecast before you go, but more on that later!

Find at more about trip planning at AdventureSmart.ca.

Know how to recognize avalanche terrain

The best way to stay out of an avalanche is to avoid avalanche terrain altogether. You don’t have to stand on top of a mountain to risk being caught and not all avalanche terrain looks big or frightening—even small slopes can be dangerous in the right conditions. That’s why it’s vital to know what kind of slopes can produce an avalanche so you can avoid them when dangerous conditions exist. This is particularly important if you don’t have the essential gear and training for travel in avalanche terrain.

If you’re not sure how to spot avalanche terrain but are wanting to get out this winter, check out our Start Here page to learn the basics about how terrain and conditions affect avalanche risk. If your trips take you into avalanche terrain, then you definitely need to have the gear and training to do so safely.

Revelstoke Mountain Resort | Ryan Creary

Keep your head up

It’s easy to forget about overhead avalanche hazard. If the trail ahead of you is flat or you’re in the valley bottom, avalanches might not even cross your mind, but they should. The trail might cross through an avalanche path, so pay attention to what’s above you. If there was an avalanche somewhere high above, would you be safe?

Get the gear

If you’re going into avalanche terrain, everyone in your group should have the avalanche essentials: a modern, three-antenna avalanche transceiver, a probe, and a metal shovel. More importantly, everyone should know how to use them in case you find yourself in a situation where you need to rescue someone caught in a snow slide.

When it comes to companion rescue, practice makes perfect.  Watch the Rescue at Cherry Bowl for a powerful reminder of how training and practice can be the difference between life and death.

Snowmobiling | Avalanche Canada/Leslie Crawley

Get the training

We appreciate it can be hard to know where to start with avalanche training, and to know how much you need. Avy Savvy, our brand new online avalanche tutorial, is a great place to start and it will give you a leg up when you go take an Avalanche Canada Training course.

The minimum you should have if you plan on spending any time recreating in avalanche terrain is an Avalanche Skills Training 1 (AST 1) course. This two-day course will teach you important information about avalanche terrain, how avalanches are formed, companion rescue, the avalanche forecast, and trip planning. Check out Boondock Nation’s License to Ride to learn the benefits of taking an AST 1.

As your experience grows, take one of our other courses such as Companion Rescue Skills, Managing Avalanche Terrain, and Avalanche Skills Training 2. ACT courses are the national standard for recreational avalanche curriculum. Look for the AST provider logo to ensure you’re taking the right course.

Get the forecast

Before you leave the house, it’s essential to know what kind of conditions you might experience. Avalanche Canada publishes forecasts for 14 regions in BC, so make sure to check the one for your area before you head out.

Backcountry skiing in Whistler | Tourism Whistler/Mike Crane

Ski touring in the Whistler backcountry | Tourism Whistler/Mike Crane

The forecast will let you know the overall avalanche danger rating for the day, and the type of avalanche problems that exist. This information will let you decide which terrain to avoid, and which terrain to enjoy. Or you might decide to avoid avalanche terrain together, or simply stay home and wait for conditions to improve.

You can find your local forecast on our homepage.

If you live in an area without an avalanche forecast, learn how to use the Dangerator to estimate the avalanche danger rating.

For more information on avalanche safety, visit Avalanche.ca.

Header image: Ski touring in Callaghan | Tourism Whistler/Mike Crane

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WRITTEN BY: Avalanche Canada

Avalanche Canada is a non-government, not-for-profit organization dedicated to public avalanche safety. Its mission is to encourage and educate people to recreate safely in the winter backcountry by developing, coordinating, promoting, and delivering world-class public avalanche safety programs and services in Canada.

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