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More snowmobilers paying attention to avalanche dangers

Backcountry users reminded of dangers during this weekend’s Avalanche Awareness Days

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That was most critical at lower elevations, he said, things like clear cuts and creek banks where the surface hoar was largest.

"It continues to be that way in some areas, particularly in the Duffey Lake Road area," said Campbell. "It's probably one of the more critical areas in the South Coast region right now."

Like the local snowmobile clubs, the CAC has also noticed a marked increase in awareness from snowmobile users, both in online forums and in avalanche courses.

That level of awareness may have spiked in the wake of the devastating avalanches last December, which killed eight snowmobilers near Fernie.

In fact, of the 26 avalanche fatalities last season, 19 were snowmobilers - 75 per cent.

"I think there's just an overall sense of much more awareness in that user group for sure," said Campbell.

"In the past skiers accounted for the higher percentage of fatalities and so we were targeting that user group. And in the past five years or so we've been targeting snowmobilers because we're seeing a growing trend in snowmobile use."

Technology is allowing snowmobilers to get further into the mountains in bigger and better machines.

"The machines now take us way beyond," explained Bastien. "We're now traveling through valleys and up hills that we couldn't get up back in those years, so the evolution is happening. Bigger machines, more distance, more risk, more death. But we're trying to combat it."

So is the CAC.

"We've identified them as the higher risk group these days probably because there's just more of them out there and they're traveling in more areas," added Campbell.

In addition to being an area director for the B.C. Snowmobile Federation, Bastien is also the president of the Powder Mountain Snowmobile Club, which has a trail management agreement with the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Arts. The club collects trail fees at Brandywine.

The agreement means the club must call the avalanche centre every morning and post the avalanche bulletin at the trailhead.

The club has also produced a map of the Brandywine territory this year, which highlights the groomed trails and the rescue caches in the area.

The water resistant map also shows some of the known avalanche paths. It is being sold for $5.

"There is an awful lot more being done and we're a part of it," said Bastien.

Perhaps as an indication of not just the increasing popularity of backcountry use but also the need to provide updated information to those users, the CAC is now producing daily avalanche bulletins on its website. Last year the bulletins were issued three times a week.

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