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Avalanche Canada to receive $25 million in federal funding

Organization says Public safety will benefit

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Avalanche Canada will be the recipient of a one-time endowment of $25 million in federal funding, the government announced last week.

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau delivered the news during his fall economic statement, presented in Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov 21. Avalanche Canada is a non-profit and non-government organization.

"We're super excited of course," said Karl Klassen, Avalanche Canada's warning service manager. "It's a lot of money; it's going to make a huge difference for public avalanche safety in Canada. It's enough to stabilize what we do now and there's probably going to be enough there to expand some programs and services into other parts of the country."

The funding comes in response to an Avalanche Canada proposal that's been two years in the making, Klassen added.

"We've never seen anything like this before," he said. "All of our current funding is mostly annual funding. We have to ask for it every year; we never know for sure whether we're going to get it or not. We do have a couple of multi-year agreements, but this is a huge amount of money."

Since being established in 2004 as the national public avalanche safety organization, Avalanche Canada has continued to facilitate numerous programs and services for the steadily growing community of winter backcountry enthusiasts.

Each winter, Avalanche Canada provides daily public avalanche forecasts for many of Western Canada's mountainous regions—in fact, its avalanche forecasting program is the largest in the world in terms of area, the organization explained in a release. This season's forecasts, which provide invaluable information to anyone planning a trip into the backcountry, began last weekend.

The organization also develops and coordinates public avalanche-safety education, youth awareness and training seminars, and contributes to snow safety research.

Avalanche Canada's services are, "incredibly important," said Jayson Faulkner, chair of the Spearhead Huts Society and founding president of the Alpine Club of Canada's Whistler section. "It's really important to all winter backcountry users, whether they're skiers or snowshoers, or snowmobilers."

The organization "is considered one of the leading institutions in the world at what they do," Faulkner continued. "There's been a lot of concern in the backcountry community about their challenging funding each year, this is why this is such a wonderful milestone for them and for the backcountry community, because the techniques they use, the educational programs they've evolved and developed, the work that they've done, is some of the very, very best in the world."

That being said, "The money will allow us to do what we do now better," Klassen explained. "Certainly I'd be pretty surprised if we're not able to expand some services and programs in other areas, which will raise our profile in other places where currently our profile is either non-existent or is relatively low."

Klassen estimates the recent funding announcement is partly motivated by "the realization that there's a public service that's being funded by private money and by sponsorships and donors—you get $20 here, you get $1,000 there—that's not really a long-term, sustainable model for running a national public avalanche safety program."

Though Avalanche Canada has also seen "a steady stream" of short-term federal funding over the years, it would consistently need to be renewed, and until now, "has been a relatively small part of our overall budget," Klassen added. "This $25 million obviously completely changes that picture."

To that end, the recently announced endowment "gives them some better planning now," Faulkner explained. "For a small organization like that, you've got to constantly be trying to raise funds. When you're a non-profit like that, it sucks away a huge amount of resources that could be spent on other programs."

Avalanche Canada hopes the announcement will also inspire the provinces to step up their funding levels, Klassen said. "It's a great thing that's happened and it's enough money to do some things, but it's not going to keep us going forever. If this is the only time we're going to get this money, then we're going to have to stretch it and getting the provinces on board to stretch that money would be a huge benefit to us."

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