Backcountry Winter Safety

 In General

There’s a chill in the air, the leaves are changing colour, our thoughts go from sun and surf to snow and ski slopes. Winter is on its way, so let’s take some time to look at what we need to do to make this a great winter season.

At the beginning of the winter season we make sure the car is ready by putting snow tires on, changing the oil, topping up antifreeze, etc. We make sure our skis and boards are tuned and waxed, our ‘survival pack’ is topped up, and avalanche transceiver and headlamp have new batteries. Now that our equipment is ready, what else can we do to ensure our safety in the backcountry? It’s been several months since we were skiing or boarding and travelling in avalanche terrain. Some questions we need to ask ourselves are, what are the conditions of the snowpack, what was the velocity and direction of the winds last night, what’s the forecast for today, tomorrow and next week? This is all very important information to know when travelling in the backcountry and slackcountry in the winter.

If you haven’t taken an avalanche course yet, maybe it’s time. They can be a ton of fun and could keep you out of trouble. If you have already done a course then when is the last time you reviewed the information, dug a snow pit, did the stability tests, and studied the different snow layers?  We do tend to get complacent in our region due to the relative stability of the snow pack in southwest BC.  We can also develop a tolerance for riskier terrain travel than we would in other parts of the country, which should be kept in check.

The desire to share the backcountry experience with friends should come with the responsibility for their safety. Make sure they know what they’re getting themselves into and how to use the equipment.  You might be able to find them if they’re buried, but can they find you? One important thing to keep in mind is an avalanche related accident will require some degree of self-rescue for any chance of a positive outcome.

Well, now that we’re thinking about safe winter travel, let’s start making plans to get out there and explore this amazing place we call our backyard!

Thank you to CSAR Member Dave T., avid skier, former ski instructor and back country enthusiast for putting together these timely reminders! Photo: By CSAR Member Ron E. ‘Upper Hanging Lake’

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