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Death and injury predicted following cuts to CAA



Reduction in funding for CAA announced during Avalanche Awareness Week

Government funding cuts to the Canadian Avalanche Association could mean higher injury and death rates amongst backcountry enthusiasts.

"...The net result will be an increase in death and injury," said Evan Manners, operations manager for the CAA, which was recently endorsed by Justin Trudeau's campaign to promote avalanche awareness following the death of Michel Trudeau in 1998.

"And if you see an increase in bad press... then probably a secondary effect will be some people, including tourists, avoiding those sports in Western Canada."

The CAA learned this week it will no longer receive $20,000 from the Provincial Emergency Program following the core review process currently under way throughout the provincial Liberal government.

The minister responsible for the PEP program, Solicitor General Rich Coleman, didn’t return phone calls.

It’s likely another $17,000 from the Ministry of Forests, the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection and B.C. Assets and Lands will also be withdrawn.

The money is used, along with over $40,000 from non-public sponsors, to produce a public avalanche awareness bulletin which alerts anyone who uses the backcountry to current avalanche dangers and conditions across Western Canada.

"We are extremely concerned about this," said Clayton Prince, executive director of the B.C. Snowmobile Federation.

"It is the only source in Canada of reliable avalanche information."

Prince will be writing to the ministers responsible for the funding cutback to ask them to reconsider their decision.

Some parks and ski resorts have their own avalanche information but it only covers small areas.

Conditions and weather are checked at more than 60 locations across Western Canada to produce the bulletin, which is available on line at .

More than 1,000 people use the site everyday during the winter months. Another 1,500 have the information e-mailed to them. Sixty receive the information by fax every time it is updated and 1,800 phone the Revelstoke-based avalanche centre to get updated every season.

Unless other sponsors step in, said Manners, it’s likely the government cutbacks will mean the end of the public bulletin.

And it is unlikely the move will save money, said Manners, as more will be spent rescuing people who head into danger because they weren’t armed with the latest information.

Ironically the funding cut announcement comes just days before the CAA’s annual avalanche awareness days. Just about every ski area across Canada will participate in the event this weekend, which offers people information and tips about how to stay safe in the backcountry.

Eighty-five per cent of the avalanches that strike people are known as slabs: A large piece of snow which fractures away as one piece, then breaks up as it gathers speed down a slope.

Many factors combine to cause avalanches, but the main three are the amount of snow on a slope and its angle, the weather, and the strength of the layers of snow.

Once a victim is completely buried there is only a one-in-three chance of survival, and that rate drop substantially after 30 minutes.

Seventy-five per cent of avalanches in Canada occur in B.C., 95 per cent of them are triggered by people, with an average 11 or 12 deaths per year.

Manners believes the number of deaths would be much higher if current condition information was not available.

He points to the exponential increase in the numbers of people who use the backcountry but the small increase in the number of deaths.

"This information product is all about helping people make better decisions and modifying their behaviour where appropriate," said Manners.

"There can be rapid change and the people who aren’t far enough along the learning curve need help to recognize that change, and the bulletin plays a key role there."

Whistler-Blackcomb will be hosting their Avalanche Awareness Day Saturday, Jan. 12 at the village base of Whistler.

Activities will include avalanche rescue dog simulations, transceiver search challenges, awareness video showings, and information booths and displays.

"It brings together the different groups in the community who volunteer their time for public safety and it is a good way to interact with the public and let them know the safety information is out there and it is easy to access," said Marc Schoenrank, public safety supervisor for the mountains.

"You can stand where people exit into the backcountry and on any given day you can meet a handful of people that have all the right equipment or information.

"But you will also meet 50 or 60 others who don’t, and those are the people we are trying to reach."