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Resort set to celebrate mountain activity and safety

National Ski and Snowboard Week coincides with Avalanche Awareness Days

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With feet of fresh snow on the mountains and weather systems passing through every few days it’s perfect timing for Avalanche Awareness Days and the National Ski and Snowboard Week.

Both start this weekend with the NSSW, sponsored by Samsung and organized by the Canadian Ski Council, running through until Jan 21.

The council’s main event will take place at Intrawest’s Blue Mountain resort in Ontario. But Whistler-Blackcomb, like scores of other resorts across Canada, is hosting its own program to coincide with the event and encourage people to get out and try winter sports.

So this weekend will mark the start of Learn to Ski/Ride Week on the mountains.

"The whole premise is to open up the possibility of learning to ski and ride during this one week," said Whistler-Blackcomb spokeswoman Christina Moore.

"Last year we had over 3,000 beginners who took part in the week."

"And this year we wanted to use this event again to participate in the (NSSW) program that is going across the country. We want to make sure that skiing and snowboarding is accessible for everyone to try at an affordable price."

During the promotion adults can get lift tickets, equipment and lessons for $71.50 per day or go for three days for $174.50. (For more information about what is going on at Whistler-Blackcomb go to www.whistlerblackcomb.com. )

The Canadian Ski Council started NSSW nine years ago to celebrate winter activities on the slopes across the country. It is a week full of great deals, promotions and parties at winter resorts.

"(It) is our opportunity to get Canadians out sliding on Canada’s slopes," said Colin Chedore, President of the National Ski Council.

"It is to raise some awareness for people to get active and healthy and get out there and enjoy the winter. We live in a winter climate in Canada and this is an opportunity to get out and enjoy the 280 ski areas we have in this country.

"We want people who are sitting around and who have tried it but haven’t done it for a while, or those who have never tried it, to get out and enjoy it."

Obviously by raising awareness of snow sports it is also hoped that participation will increase. According to the Council’s most recent statistics this year for the first time the number of skiers, cross-country skiers and snowboarders fell below 3.8 million, a decrease of 364,000 participants or 8.7 per cent compared to the previous season and a decrease of 3.6 per cent compared to 2002.

BC recorded a decrease of 33 per cent in skier visits in 2004-2005 mostly due to snowfall shortages.

The number of those who skied exclusively dropped 14.3 per cent this year over last nationally.

Chedore said it’s not just about enjoying skiing and snowboarding, the council wants people to simply get out and enjoy all winter activities.

"There is lots of research that says that people who are active and healthy in winter are active and healthy the rest of the year," he said.

This year will also see the launch of a new safety video during the NSSW, " A Little Respect: Thinkfirst." It is a collaborative effort of experts in the fields of injury prevention in skiing and snowboarding and is aimed at users from six to 12 years old.

This is the eighth year for Avalanche Awareness Days. This year the events are being organized by the Canadian Avalanche Centre, an organization put in place just over a year ago to centralize education on avalanche awareness.

Local events will be centralized on Blackcomb Mountain on Jan 14 and 15.

The activities will include avalanche rescue equipment display, backcountry travel safety, beacon demonstrations and beacon searches. On Saturday there will be an avalanche beacon searching contest open to the public. Donations to the CAC will be accepted for the entry fee. The start time will be 9 a.m. at the BCA Beacon Basin, behind the ski patrol building at the top of Solar Coaster. For more information go to www.bcaccess.com .

On average over the last 10 years 14 to 15 people have died in avalanches in Canada, said John Kelly, operations manager at the CAC.

"So getting the avalanche safety message out is critical," he said.

"In other places in the world they have been dealing with this for centuries…. We are just coming to grips with it and the role of Avalanche Awareness Days is to build that cultural awareness of avalanches."

This year’s main event will be at Big White Ski Resort. For more information go to www.bigwhite.com .

The activities will focus on youth – bringing avvy savvy messages to the next generation of backcountry users because more than ever young people are attracted by the lure of the backcountry. Known as "out-of-bounders" they are the fastest growing users of avalanche terrain in Canada. They are also the group that is most in need of the knowledge and skills that will allow them to use the backcountry safely.

Justin Trudeau, a long-standing supporter of the CAC and a Director of the Canadian Avalanche Foundation, plans to take part in the weekend of events at Big White.

"Winter in Canada’s mountains is part of our national heritage and I believe that with respect for nature and the right backcountry know-how, we can enjoy it safely for years to come," said Trudeau.