Avalanches major concern with winter activities

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Winter has hit B.C. and many people enjoy participating in various snow-filled activities throughout the province, including skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling. However, adding safety into the mix is still a major concern.

According to the Canadian Avalanche Centre, nearly half of all avalanche deaths across Canada between 1984 and 2003 actually occurred in the B.C. interior.

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Anyone who participates in different winter activities, such as snowmobiling, should make some basic preparations and take some essential training, says John Kelly, operations manager at the Canadian Avalanche Centre.

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Kelly says the Centre recommends people take a two-day avalanche skills training – AST -course. The course includes training on recognizing potential avalanche areas, how to travel in areas where there are avalanche risks and how to perform a companion rescue.

He says everyone should carry proper rescue gear, including an avalanche beacon (a transmitter that can find someone buried under the snow), a collapsible probe to pinpoint a buried person’s location and a collapsible shovel. He adds that without these three essential pieces of equipment, if people are buried, there is very little chance of getting them out alive.

When someone has course training and the necessary gear, he says companion rescues are generally successful.

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Kelly says another way to help recreationists avoid dangerous areas is to look at an area’s avalanche bulletins. However, in remote areas where bulletins might not be available, he suggests speaking with local people who are experienced with the terrain.

Yet, despite being prepared and knowing potential avalanche areas, he says it’s always important to be cautious since avalanche conditions can change not only from day to day but sometimes within the same day.

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Avalanches can be caused on a variety of hills and Kelly says, even a hill with a 30 degree slope – about the angle of a regular staircase – and a height between 50 and 100 metres can be dangerous.

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A technique as simple as climbing the ridge of a hill rather than its face, and not gathering in large groups at the base of a hill, can help prevent someone from causing an avalanche. However, Kelly says one of the most important avalanche prevention aspects can’t be taught in a class: experience.

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