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Justin Trudeau uses MuchMusic to convey mountain safety message



When Michel Trudeau, the youngest son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, died in an avalanche in Kokanee Glacier Park three years ago, the family launched a national campaign to create awareness of backcountry safety.

Since then, Michel's oldest brother Justin has been working hard with the Canadian Avalanche Association to promote respect for the mountains.

This year he wanted to do something a little different and he came to Whistler with a MuchMusic producer and cameraman to do it.

"I approached MuchMusic, which is a total turnaround for me, because I never approach the media," he said, highlighting his commitment to getting the message out to a specific target audience.

"Last year I found that the kid's element of the Avalanche Association's (message) was really missing," said Trudeau. "I feel that the key demographic in terms of saving interested people are the young extreme snowboarder/skier kids and those weren't the people I was reaching."

As a high school teacher in the west side of Vancouver, Trudeau is particularly aware if the message is getting to the right target group or not.

"Everything I do is with young people," he said.

He wanted to make sure that he could make mountain safety advice pertinent to the kids in his class.

About a month ago he pitched an idea to MuchMusic about hosting a series of hill safety messages that would air over the winter season.

"Justin wanted to reach a certain demographic and didn't want to be preachy about it," said MuchMusic producer, Steve Pratt.

Last week the concept finally evolved when Trudeau and his best friend Sean Smillie went up Blackcomb for the day to shoot a series of short safety messages called Smillie and Trudeau's Snow Tips.

The two friend's bantered in front of the camera while they talked about the importance of wearing helmets, skiing and riding with a buddy, observing out of bounds and permanent closures and practising mountain courtesy.

By taking a serious subject and making it light-hearted, they're hoping the message will resonate with the younger kids.

Smillie and Trudeau have been friends for about six years now, after being snowboard instructors together in Whistler. They say they practice what they preach on camera.

"We had a massive wipeout together about 3-4 years ago," said Smillie. "We've been wearing helmets ever since."

Although both Trudeau and Smillie are on their snowboards for the filming, they say the messages apply for all sports on the mountain.

"We didn't want to make an issue of whether we were on skis or on a snowboard. The distinction is becoming less and less meaningful. Now we're all doing the same things," said Trudeau.

Michel Trudeau was on a backcountry ski trip with friends in the Kootenay Mountains when an avalanche pushed him into a lake on Nov. 13 1998.

Since that time Justin Trudeau has been pivotal in raising awareness about avalanche dangers and backcountry safety. He is now the honorary chairman of the Kokanee Glacier Alpine Campaign, which has been organized in part to pay tribute to Michel.

Some of the funds that are raised by the campaign will go towards restoration of the historic Slocan Chief Cabin, where Michel spent his last night.

The new campaign on MuchMusic is different from Trudeau's work with the Avalanche Association because its focus is on the younger audience.

At the moment the finer details for Smillie and Trudeau's Snow Tips have yet to be worked out.

Pratt was unsure how the filmed portions will eventually translate on the air. They may be roughly one-minute slots highlighting one tip at a time or it might be a complete five-minute package.

"There are different ways that they might air," he said.

Although Trudeau wanted to get the spots on the air before Christmas in order to push buying helmets as Christmas presents, it is more likely the spots will air in the New Year, likely in time for MuchMusic's Snow Job 2002.

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