Backcountry education proposed for high schools Teens should know backcountry's 'stupid line' By Chris Woodall As high school teens stretch their slope toy hunger for the untouched paths of the high mountain backcountry, they will come into — and die among — avalanches. An Alberta ski patroller wants to go to the source to prepare school-agers for the dangers they'll face when they take their snowboard, skis or snowmobile beyond the groomed slopes and trails of their local mountain zone. The idea is in its infancy, but Peter Spear would like to see at least a one-hour block of time out of Grade 10 students’ phys-ed classes dedicated to the dangers of the backcountry. More than a standard lesson, each school's slot of time should focus on the types of sport the local kids do. While a Whistler school's students might be mostly keen boarders, another school may have more snowmobilers than skiers or snowboarders. Each has its own circumstances that have to be on young minds in the event of an avalanche, says Spear, a ski patroller for 25 years in the Lake Louise area. "The course would teach them about not crossing their 'stupid line'," Spear says. Other risk management courses for students acknowledge that students will push their limits, but try to awaken a sense that there are smart risks and stupid risks. "They'd learn about the factors of the 'avalanche triangle': weather, terrain and snowpack. Forgetting or not heeding one of these and you could end up getting stuck in an avalanche," Spear says. The course concept is not part of the Alberta classroom yet, but Spear hopes to get it there after pitching the idea to fellow Canadian Avalanche Association members at a meeting in Penticton, May 6. "The course would discuss what happens if you go beyond a ski resort's boundaries," Spear explains. While a boarder can expect a ski resort has been patrolled and made safe against avalanches, once he slips past the resort boundary he's on his own. "If they go into the backcountry they should be prepared to stay over night," Spear says. The course would also focus on the skills needed to "play" in the backcountry, what kinds of equipment are necessary and the importance of going with an experienced partner. If plans go well, Spear hopes to develop a video illustrating various backcountry situations and have a course outline structured such that teachers can produce the course themselves. Being from Alberta, Spear hopes to get the safety course in some of his province's schools by next fall. He hopes it could be introduced to B.C. and Yukon schools by September, 1999.