Avalanche Awareness Days promote safety

Events take place at Avalanche Hut on Blackcomb Mountain this weekend

According to Sandra Riches, AdventureSmart’s B.C. provincial coordinator, there’s one common takeaway most participants share after attending an AdventureSmart training program or event.

“More (often) than not, and almost every single time, they realize how much they didn’t know,” she said. “There’s no question … their exposure to the gear, to the practices you need to make (that gear) work safely and understand them, a little bit of training awareness, and they realize how little they know.”

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That realization is a good thing, she added. “It puts a little bit of caution in them, or a little bit of fear, which isn’t a bad thing when we go to play in our backcountry, because people have to have some level of caution before they head out there,” she said.

AdventureSmart is hoping to instill some of that caution into Whistler’s skiers, boarders and backcountry enthusiasts during National Avalanche Awareness Days this weekend, with events supported by Avalanche Canada.

From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday (Jan. 20) and Sunday (Jan. 21), AdventureSmart staff will join local search and rescue groups and Whistler Blackcomb Ski Patrol at the Avalanche Hut on Blackcomb Mountain (at the top of Solar Coaster chair) to promote avalanche awareness and search and rescue prevention.

Those interested can participate in avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel demonstrations and a few mountain safety challenges and games — with a few pieces of gear as prizes. They’ll also have the opportunity to learn from experts about avalanche awareness, snowpacks, tree wells, outdoor preparedness, search and rescue response and prevention, and public education and training opportunities. No registration is required.

For example, “one of the main things we focus on in all of our programs and face-to-face at events like this one, we talk about the three Ts: trip planning, training and taking the essentials. Those are critical and they apply to all seasons and all sports,” Riches said.

Interested participants shouldn’t worry about their level of experience, either. “We’re there for everyone and all levels of experience,” Riches said. “If you’re new we have information for you. If you’ve been out for awhile, we have information. If you’re experienced, we want to still have a chat with you and maybe have some friendly reminders and info to share — we could help you learn more or maybe become a presenter or a trainer. There’s many different user groups and levels of experience that would still benefit from our message.”

AdventureSmart is following up their weekend activities with a free presenter training session on Monday (Jan. 22) at the Whistler Conference Centre from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Registration is required (email Riches at bccoordinator@adventuresmart.ca.)

The training session aims to equip interested volunteers with the skills, knowledge and materials necessary to become AdventureSmart ambassadors and spread AdventureSmart’s objectives throughout their communities.

Following the presentation, “you then have our program messaging, history, training and program information at the tip of your fingers, and you can use that at your will if you want to deliver those presentations to your school group, cub scouts, your workplace, to your hiking group, to your ski club, and we supply all of the materials for you to do that,” Riches explained. “You get the training, and then I give you everything you need to run the show and then I support you. It allows you to be a social influencer. It allows you to educate the public, increase awareness and help reduce the number and severity of search and rescues in the province.”

According to Riches, that number currently lists over 1,600 search and rescue calls a year in B.C. alone. “That’s more than the rest of Canada combined, so the more ambassadors or representatives I can have out there in the province, the better it is for the 2,500 search and rescue volunteers.”

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