The South Rockies Field Team helps with avalanche control and forecasting in the local backcountry. Above

Avalanche Canada active in Elk Valley

Avalanche Canada is a non-government, not-for-profit organization that delivers avalanche forecasts in aims to increase avalanche safety.

Avalanche Canada is a non-government, not-for-profit organization that delivers avalanche forecasts in aims to increase avalanche safety. The Elk Valley is home to one of only two field teams in Canada. The South Rockies Field Team covers almost 12,000 square kilometres and is the larger of the two team’s areas. The South Rockies three-person team consists of Jennifer Coulter, Martina Halik and Stephanie Lemieux.

“The Flathead/Lizard Range and South Rockies bulletin areas cover about 11,525 square km.  The Yukon Bulletin region is currently the only other area with a field program.  The size of that region is quite a bit smaller,” said Halik. “Two of us are on at any one shift so we do not work alone in the backcountry for safety reasons.”

There are three skiing operations that cover Fernie, including Fernie Alpine Resort, Island Lake Lodge and Fernie Wilderness Adventures. Due to this,  Avalanche Canada is able to focus their data collection in the data sparse areas throughout the South Rockies, such as Sparwood and Elkford.

“We concentrate on collecting data and meeting people outside of Fernie such as the Flathead, Crowsnest, Corbin, Elkford and Sparwood, Fort Steele,” said Halik. “The majority of the people we see in the backcountry are sledders, with a few skiers and snowboarders doing some sled accessed riding.”

While the field team starts and ends in an office they spend the majority of their shift collecting data in the field. The team uses many resources before leaving the office. Tools like weather forecasts and highway cams can be useful in giving the team an idea of what they are heading into, but the most detailed tool is the Industry Information Exchange (Infoex) where subscribers can exchange technical snow, weather, avalanche and terrain information between its users.

“A typical day starts with us in our office.  We check the Infoex, current and forecast weather data, as well as a few other pieces of information to piece together a hazard forecast and put together a plan for the day,” said Halik. “We usually spend about five to six hours a day in the field. We look for signs of recent avalanches, check snowpack layers, weather, gather photos and videos to try to pass on the information we find in a more meaningful and effective way – such as through blogs, Instagram, or Facebook.”

The team also factors in area use. Zones that receive more traffic are the ones that the team tries to forecast more.

“Locally, we try to visit areas that get the most amount of recreational use – we only work four days a week so we really need to prioritize where our info will have the best impact for users.  Ideally, we could work seven days a week with more field members and not have any gaps in our field days at all, giving us more consistent and accurate information for the bulletin and our social media channels,” Halik said. “We are the only area in B.C. and Alberta, outside of Parks Canada, with a field team due to funding. We are extremely lucky to have found a generous sponsor with Teck who has made our team possible. In an ideal world all our ‘data sparse’ bulletin areas would have field teams.”

The team does not take a position of enforcement when interacting with the public, often receiving useful information from other trail users.

“We are not really interested in increasing our presence, as we are not there to be the ‘avalanche police’.  Instead we are interested in gathering relevant snowpack, weather, and avalanche information from the data sparse areas where people like to ride,” said Halik. “We are interested in what other local riders have been seeing in the backcountry too, because we can only go so many places in a shift, so their information is also a great help to us. Often we answer avalanche related questions and try to impart some type of current travel advice or other tips to interested riders we meet in the field.””

Halik wants backcountry users to get involved, posting relevant photos to specific websites allows the field team to use them as information aids.

“We encourage riders we meet to help us by submitting their observations to the Mountain Information Network on the Avalanche Canada website,” she said. “The information the field team gathers helps to make the local avalanche bulletins, but we also submit information and photos to the Mountain Information Network which is available for anyone.”


Just Posted

Fires highlight need for more volunteers

Short-staffed volunteer fire departments in Elk Valley, South Country rely on mutual aid

Motorcyclist grateful to be alive, thanks fellow drivers

Over a dozen people stopped to assist Lori Hann after she tumbled off her bike on Hwy 3, Saturday

Local athletes ready for BC Summer Games

Twenty-four athletes from the Elk Valley and South Country will compete at the 2018 BC Summer Games.

GearHub staff staying positive after fire

Sporting goods store to fully reopen by end of July

UPDATE: New lead narrows the search for Serval cat

UPDATE, July 17: A new lead has narrowed the search for Aquila… Continue reading

BC Games: Day 1 comes to an end

Medals have already been handed out following one day of competition in the 2018 BC Summer Games

The Free Press editor wins awards

Editor Phil McLachlan has been recognized at the 2018 Canadian Community Newspaper Awards.

BC Wildfire update on Okanagan blazes

Watch the media briefing on the current fire situation in the Okanagan.

RCMP help to save goats from wildfire

The fast-approaching wildfire, sparked Thursday, forced the evacuation of five homes

VIDEO: Near drowning captured on popular B.C. river

Search and Rescue manager says the popular pastime of floating in the summer is inherently dangerous

Crosswalk vandalism leaves black mark for Cowichan as B.C. Games begin

Rainbow crosswalk defaced just days after being painted

Photo gallery: BC Games Day 1

A brief look at action from the 2018 BC Summer Games in the Cowichan Valley

UPDATED: Anti-pipeline campers digging in as eviction deadline expires

The City of Burnaby had ordered the Kinder Morgan pipeline protesters out for violating bylaws

Trump was taped talking of paying Playboy model: AP source

Source says former personal lawyer Michael Cohen secretly recorded discussion prior to 2016 election

Most Read