Fernie Alpine Resort (FAR) hosted their annual Avalanche Awareness Day on Saturday, February 22. Celebrated by Avalanche Canada and avalanche professionals in over 30 communities throughout the country, the event was created to educate snow sport aficionados about avalanche safety. These avalanche safety educational events are just one of the ways Avalanche Canada, a nonprofit global leader in avalanche accident prevention, seeks to negate public risk in avalanche terrain.
“It is important that everybody is aware that we do live in avalanche terrain in most of British Columbia. There’s lots of opportunities to enjoy the backcountry, but if we are going to do that, we need to have the right gear, have the avalanche forecast, and have the avalanche training necessary so that we can enjoy the backcountry, make good decisions, and come home safely every day,” said Jennifer Coulter, Avalanche Canada representative for the Lizard Range, Flathead, and South Rockies bulletin regions.
As the day progressed, activities ran at the plaza and on the mountain. The events, which were hosted by Avalanche Canada in partnership with Fernie Ski Patrol, were open to all ages. Activities included snow profile lessons where patrollers showed riders layers in the snowpack, Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association demos with FAR’s three avalanche dogs, and transceiver demonstrations. Ski patrollers also shot tee shirts out of a retired avalauncher, one of the tools used to manage avalanche risk. At the end of the day, prizes were auctioned off at the Griz Bar, with all proceeds going towards Avalanche Canada’s public education programs.
“This event at FAR has a little bit of something for everybody,” said Coulter. “We want people to understand not just about the backcountry, but that at a place like FAR, the ski patrol works really hard to protect its staff and the public from avalanche hazards. It’s a bit of an insight even for people who are going to stay only in the resort, of what the avalanche industry is all about.”
Avalanches are one of the most serious and potentially fatal risks that riders face in the back country and sometimes in bounds. According to Avalanche Canada, they take the lives of more people than any other natural hazard in the country, with more than 80 per cent of Canadian avalanches occurring in British Columbia.
Events like this are crucial for giving people the knowledge needed to make safe decisions in the backcountry in an effort to prevent human triggered avalanche accidents, while giving riders the skills needed to handle problems when they do occur.
“In a mountain town like this, avalanches are a big part of the community, so it is important to know how they happen, and what we need to do to mitigate that risk,” says Kahn Kohlenberg, one of FAR’s ski patrollers.
Ultimately, it is in every rider’s best interest to educate themselves on the potential dangers of avalanches, whether or not they venture into the backcountry on a regular basis. These events are not a suitable replacement for official Avalanche Safety courses such as Avalanche Skills Training (AST), which are highly recommended, if not critical for backcountry riders.