Avalanche Canada is relying more heavily on backcountry recreationalists to submit snow observations for the agency’s avalanche forecast.
In previous years, the organization has depended on professional data from ski guides at backcountry lodges across the province. However, COVID-19 has forced many of those lodges to close.
One of the largest heliskiing companies in the province, Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) typically operates 12 heliskiing lodges each winter season, however none of them are currently open.
If conditions allow this winter, they may open the heli-accessed Bobbie Burns lodge.
In a typical winter, each CMH lodge submits avalanche conditions twice daily, which is used by Avalanche Canada to create avalanche conditions reports, which are critical for the public to navigate the backcountry safely.
To address this gap, Avalanche Canada said it has deployed more field teams to monitor areas with few conditions reports, such as the Caribous.
The organization is also calling for recreationalists to submit riding conditions to their Mountain Information Network, on Avalanche Canada’s website.
“The information is really valuable,” said James Floyer, avalanche forecaster.
A submission asks a variety of questions, such as where you went, whether the riding was good, how were snow conditions, slope angle and weather.
Floyer said the information is even more valuable when a photograph is attached.
Avalanche Canada is a non-profit and non-government organization that aims to eliminate avalanche fatalities and injuries in Canada. The organization is Canada’s national public avalanche safety agency and is based in Revelstoke, B.C.
It was formed in 2004 in response to 29 people killed during the winter of 2002/2003, including seven high school students.
Avalanche Canada uses the submitted conditions reports to create daily avalanche forecasts across 12 mountainous regions in Western Canada, which is used by recreationalists and industry, including highways and railways.
The forecasts are particularly important for search and rescue teams, as they have to know what the hazards are in an area when responding to a call, said Dwight Yochim, senior manager at BCSARA.
“If there are any gaps in the data, it raises huge concerns.”
While Avalanche Canada is concerned about the loss of professional data, the organization said it is heartened by the increase of submissions from the public.
“We think that’s going to enable us to continue to put out high quality data,” said Floyer.
There has already been double the amount of submissions from recreationalists compared to years prior.
“People are recognizing this is a free way to give back,” Floyer said.
Even information people think might be rudimentary, such as weather, he said could be incredibly useful.
After snowmobiling or skiing in the backcountry, people should reflect on what worked that day, what didn’t and what were the risks, said Floyer.
He continued that part of the daily process should also include submitting a report to Avalanche Canada.
Nevertheless, CMH said the lack of profession data this season is concerning, as the average recreational backcountry user report will most likely be less robust and detailed compared with a ski guide’s submission.
Avalanche Canada expects backcountry recreation to be busy this year as British Columbians head outside to balance mental health during the pandemic.
Demand for avalanche training courses is sky rocketing. The organization said it has hired more instructors to meet the interest.
Parks Canada has already issued more than 2,800 winter permits for Glacier National Park in the last month, compared to 3,300 last year over the entire season and 2,900 in 2018.
A winter permit is needed to ski in the park due to avalanche control on the Trans Canada Highway.
Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email: