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Organizers eyeing Whistler for community-driven avalanche conference

Avalanche forecaster to bring together professionals, scientists and backcountry users

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For years, Wayne Flann has been the Sea to Sky's avalanche safety guru. He is a fountain of knowledge gathered from his time as an avalanche forecaster and search-and-rescue volunteer, and his blog is a must-read for anyone heading out to the backcountry. Now, Flann is hoping to use some of that expertise to realize a longtime dream: hosting a community-driven avalanche awareness conference in Whistler that is open to the public.

"I've always wanted to create some way to educate, to get the message out and get people together to talk about the issues, the culture and where we're going with that culture," Flann said.

The tentatively titled Avalanche Awareness Whistler conference — or A2W for short — is the result of Flann's vision to bring together mountain professionals, scientists, safety equipment manufacturers and backcountry users of all stripes to discuss the state of avalanche safety, and look ahead to the future. He sees it as a more approachable version of similar events that have been held before in Whistler.

"We have had two International Snow Science Workshops in Whistler, and that's basically all the technicians, scientists and some of the manufacturers that get together and have these talks. But they're not for the general public," said Flann.

With the explosion in backcountry recreation, conference committee member and mountain safety advocate Richard Kinar said the event is a timely one.

"On the weekends there can be a couple hundred people lined up to get into areas where nobody went in the past," he said. "We all know there's increased use of the backcountry here, so those are all the reasons we've come together as a community to address these issues."

The backcountry boom had led to what Kinar called "a cultural crisis" where recreationalists are either unwilling to follow or unaware of the proper etiquette.

"That's the part of the culture we're trying to reach," said Flann, who added that although avalanche-training courses are more popular than ever, that doesn't always translate to safe riding.

"It's one thing to get the education and another to have common sense and properly use that knowledge."

The advent of new safety technologies like the avalanche airbag is also serving to create a false sense of confidence among some skiers and boarders who believe "they're immune to an avalanche," Kinar said, "and are not only putting themselves at risk, but other people in their party and first responders."

The technological factor is one issue organizers hope to explore at the conference, with plans to invite exhibitors making a positive difference.

"We definitely want to showcase any kind of technology that's going to benefit backcountry (users)," Flann said. "There's all these different technologies coming out that can help. There are new kinds of helmets, new transceiver technologies. Anything that can help I think is a good thing."

Organizers are eyeing the Whistler Conference Centre to host the event in late fall. But there remain some financial hurdles to cross before the proposed dates of Oct. 27 to 29 are finalized.

"What I need to do to make this happen for October is to get title sponsors (and exhibitors) onboard as quickly as possible so I can have some cash flow to reserve the space," Flann said.

For interested sponsors or exhibitors, email Flann at wwflann@me.com. A website for the conference is slated to go online in the coming weeks.

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