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Foundation provides money to keep avalanche Web site going

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Backcountry enthusiasts can continue to get avalanche warnings from the Canadian Avalanche Association Web site for the rest of the winter.

The CAA’s Web site was about to shut down after the provincial government announced it would no longer help fund it.

But the Canadian Avalanche Foundation has stepped in and offered the CAA $30,000 to keep it going.

"We were at the point where we were out of money and they indicated that they would provide whatever funds it took to keep the service alive for the remainder of this winter," said a relieved Evan Manners, operations manager for the CAA.

The CAF will use part of the money it has raised to build a backcountry hut in memory of Pierre Trudeau’s son Michel, who died in an avalanche in B.C. in 1998, to fund the Web site bulletin for the next few months.

But the fate of the information site ( www.avalanche.ca ) is not sealed.

"It’s a good news bad news story," said Manners from the Revelstoke headquarters of the CAA.

"We know we can keep doing what we very much wanted to do this winter and it buys us more time to present our case to the partners out there, including the B.C. government, for funding next year.

"But ultimately we might be back in the same boat next winter without some sort of assistance.

Canada is the only winter-sport nation, said Manners, which does not have an avalanche awareness program which receives some government funding.

He believes funding one in partnership with others is just good business.

"It supports tourism and supports the province’s residents," said Manners.

"We are hoping that someone will see the value of the service and realize that the investment we are looking for from the provincial government is relatively small compared to the benefit."

It costs about $80,000 annually to run the bulletin. It is updated twice a week. The hope is to update the Web site seven days a week and increase the number of regions covered from four to nine.

That would cost about $250,000 a year.

But when you consider it costs the government between $1,000 and $3,000 for the average avalanche rescue, helping to fund a service which may prevent disasters makes good sense, said Manners.

More than 1,000 people use the Web site everyday during the winter months. Another 1,500 have the information e-mailed to them. Sixty receive the information by fax and 1,800 phone the CAA to get updates.

This winter there have been nine avalanche fatalities in Canada.

"We know that this last period of February and March are the times when the most incidents occur," said Manners.

"So we are very happy to be able to keep this bulletin alive through this period."

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