Stay safe this season

Opening day has come and gone for another year, leaving a fresh, new ski season in its wake.

This year, early opening was a surprise, following Vail Resorts insistence months ago that Whistler Blackcomb would have to ditch the annual tradition to ensure a solid and organized start to the 2017/18 ski season. Perhaps the powers that be had a change of heart after several earlier-than-usual dumps of snow coupled with chilly temperatures perfect for snowmaking.

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Those same conditions also infused the town with electric energy after a couple of months of shoulder season hibernation. The more snow that fell on the ground, the more palpable the buzz.

But with early season snow comes early season danger. Last year, in the first few weeks of the season, a 27-year-old snowboarder died on Blackcomb Mountain after he was found in deep, unconsolidated snow.

While we’ve become increasingly aware of tree well dangers in recent years, deep snow immersion remains a risk as well, particularly in early winter when the snow has not yet consolidated to form a base. The issue: falling headfirst into deep snow and not being able to get out.

Skiers and snowboarders should be cognizant of in-bound risks all year long (backcountry safety is a whole other issue), but particularly during November and December when stoke levels are high, legs are weak and skills are still a little rusty.

It’s easy to get back on the mountain for the first days of the season and get swept up in the fun. But it’s worth brushing up on some safety tips and practicing restraint as you reacclimatize to the season.

Most importantly, keep track of your friends, particularly when you’re skiing in trees on ungroomed runs. That means ski or snowboard near each other — don’t just wait for them in the lift line. In case you need convincing: 90 per cent of people involved in tree well or SIS incidents could not rescue themselves.

That’s according to safety information on Whistler Blackcomb’s website. If you’d like more information about how to prevent incidents or rescue your partner, visit deepsnowsafety.org/index.php/.   

Aside from life-threatening danger, keep in mind that it’s better to start the season off slow than end it early with a preventable injury.

Here’s to the start of another season — may it be equal parts snowy and safe.

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