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In addition to the kits, the Avaluator program will involve ski resorts and parks where people most frequently enter the backcountry and avalanche terrain. The Canadian Avalanche Association will post a checklist of things for backcountry users to consider at the most commonly used gateways.
“We’re looking into signs wherever people access the backcountry, like the boundary of Whistler Mountain,” said Kelly. “When people go out it will serve as a reminder of the kinds of things people should be looking at on a given day. This really targets an important segment of backcountry users, most out-of-bounders tend to be young, they tend to be at the beginning in terms of their avalanche knowledge, and they fit into the risk profile where they make riskier decision making.
“It’s only a heads up, we’re not trying to stop people from using the backcountry. It’s just a tool so they can make better decisions when they do go.”
Statistically, Kelly can’t say whether any of the CAA’s efforts since 2002-03 have had any effect on the number of avalanche accidents and fatalities.
“It’s too hard to say, and it’s too early to talk about trends,” he said. “We know accidents have been down three years in a row, but we also know that this doesn’t necessarily indicate anything. A single accident can involved several people and skew statistics. We have to look at a period of at least 10 years before we can say with any certainty if any of the things we’re doing are having an effect. We certainly hope that numbers remain low and are falling.”
Making it harder to gauge the effectiveness of programs is the fact that the CAA still has no idea how many people are actually heading into the backcountry. With the growing popularity of snowmobiles, for example, it’s likely that the number of people heading into the backcountry is increasing rapidly. As a result, it’s possible that CAA programs are having a positive effect even if the number of accidents and fatalities remains flat or increases slightly.
The Avaluator kit is available online at www.avalanche.ca , at Mountain Equipment Co-op, and at outdoor stores throughout the province. Escape Route will carry the Avaluator in Whistler.