The draw of the backcountry and its silent, unpopulated cream pulls hundreds into the wilds each winter.
Off-piste skiers are typically a prepared set, heading out with regulation transceivers and ample backcountry knowledge. However, since there is no such thing as being over-prepared when it comes to the devastating effect of an avalanche, the Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC) is partnering with BC Parks with support from Squamish Search and Rescue, Whistler Blackcomb and various local businesses to hold its annual Avalanche Awareness Days this weekend at the Red Heather Shelter in Garibaldi Provincial Park.
"It's a free event to increase public knowledge and avalanche safety," said Kendra Wood, senior park ranger with BC Parks. "There are hundreds of backcountry skiers in this area. This particular event is aimed at both beginners and the more experienced as it provides really good information about the backcountry. For beginners it provides really great basic information but it also provides a convenient area for long-time users to practice their skills."
Included in the weekend's events are transceiver demonstrations, a hide-and-seek beacon challenge to help participants streamline how quickly multiple beacons can be found, snow study profiles and an informative display in the shelter.
Park rangers and local search and rescue teams will be on-site to answer questions and provide assistance with gear and backcountry related queries. Around 300 people attended last year's event, and Wood expects this year's numbers to be just as high.
Weather permitting, BC Park Rangers will be on the Garibaldi Park and Whistler Blackcomb Resort boundaries at Flute Summit and Blackcomb Glacier that same weekend to talk to park users and raise awareness of avalanche safety with out-of-bounds and backcountry skiers and snowboarders. On Whistler Blackcomb, the Avalanche Education Centre next to the Rendezvous Restaurant at Blackcomb mid-mountain, will host free avalanche awareness tours with Whistler Blackcomb staff. Tours will include a pit showcasing snow layers, weather observations, beacon, probe and shovel use, safe travel and terrain acknowledgement, and avalanche course information.
The CAC has issued an avalanche warning as "considerable" for the south coast, and though Whistler is listed as moderate, experts warn of heightened avalanche conditions on specific terrain features for the area. All backcountry travellers are advised to leave a map of their planned traverse before they leave, to travel in groups of two or more and ensure that all members are trained in avalanche hazard recognition, avoidance and self rescue.
In Squamish, Escape Route will host two days of avalanche information presentations. Saturday's talks will focus on gear and CAC tools and Sunday's presentation will focus on transceivers, GPS integration with SPOT, airbags, and CAC tools.
For more information go to www.avalanche.ca.