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Avoid backcountry warns B.C. minister unless fully prepared

Warning aimed at those who might consider ducking ropes to find fresh tracks

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The B.C. Minister of Justice and Attorney General is not mincing her words when it comes to backcountry travel over spring break — it's just not worth the risk to go out of bounds unprepared.

"It should not be called slackcountry," said Minister Shirley Bond. "It is backcountry and it can be dangerous. This spring break, we are urging skiers and snowboarders not to go out of bounds — it can be incredibly hazardous and it is simply not worth the risk. I also want to encourage everyone to make sure that they are aware of the dangers that come with ducking the rope. This is especially important for parents to discuss with their children."

Whistler Blackcomb veteran avalanche forecaster Anton Horvath said the avalanche danger would be high this week with a trend to improving conditions over the weekend with cooler temperatures and settlement of the snowpack. If those improving conditions come with sunny bluebird days, temptation to duck the ropes in search of powder rises.

"That's the problem," said Horvath.

"There is a concern that with some sunny weather on Saturday that soon after a storm cycle there is the potential for skier triggered avalanche activity.

"It's when it (the avalanche danger) gets downgraded to considerable or possibly even moderate that people throw caution to the wind and they get themselves into trouble."

A Search and Rescue (SAR) specialist with Emergency Management BC, Ian Cunnings, said the provincial message is targeted at students and families heading to ski resorts at spring break.

"What we're finding is that we get a lot of particularly teenagers, young adults, that are heading out into ski areas, and skiing what we're calling the slackcountry just outside of the ski area resort, they think that they can do that without the appropriate training and equipment and as you know that's just not the case," said Cunnings.

The pointed message from the province comes on the heels of some recently released avalanche statistics from the BC Coroners Service, which highlight that the deaths are, for the most part, preventable.

It hopes by releasing the 16 years of avalanche data it will remind backcountry users of the risk avalanches pose for skiers, boarders, hikers and snowmobilers. According to the report, which dates back to 1996, 181 people have died in avalanches across the province.

The Coroners Service is working with the Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC) and Emergency Management BC (EMBC) to further reduce the declining number of avalanche deaths in B.C.

Since 1996 B.C. has logged an average of 10 avalanche-related deaths each year and according to the Coroners Service all the deaths were preventable. The statistics show that 41 per cent of the people killed in avalanches were snowmobiling at the time, 31 per cent were skiing, 18 per cent were heli-skiing, five per cent were snowboarding and 4.4 per cent were hiking or climbing. Only 10 per cent of the victims were female.

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