Snowshoeing and Avalanche Safety – An Update

In 2018, I wrote an article on snowshoeing and avalanche safety for the spring/summer issue of Cloudburst (Avalanche Safety and Snowshoeing, pages 13-14). Subsequently, the FMCBC co-sponsored a very successful public avalanche seminar that was held on the North Shore in November 2019 (Growing number of snowshoers targeted at avalanche awareness event | Vancouver Sun). Recently, the Kootenay Mountaineering Club (KMC), under the impetus of their winter trips coordinator, spent nearly a year consulting with a range of knowledgeable sources to develop the ‘KMC Guidelines for Avalanche Safety.’ In a nutshell, this guideline requires that for any ski or snowshoe trip travelling through avalanche terrain, participants must carry a digital, multi-antenna avalanche beacon, as well as a shovel and probe, and know how to use them. The guideline also recommends that participants take an AST1 course.

The Caledonia Ramblers Hiking Club in Prince George also developed new guidelines a couple of years ago in the aftermath of this discussion, and while they don’t go as far as KMC’s new guidelines, it was a good start. Recently, during a Zoom winter trip scheduling meeting in November, I noted a strong grass roots move within the club to require avalanche gear and knowledge on snowshoe trips into avalanche terrain. Members volunteering to lead mountain trips have, in large measure, taken personal initiatives to get AST1 trained and to purchase the necessary avalanche safety gear; and they are stipulating this as a requirement for anyone wishing to join a trip that they are leading into avalanche terrain.

One of the unexpected side benefits of the pandemic has been the series of free webinars presented by Avalanche Canada. For example, on November 3, 2021 there was a seasonal introduction to the most constant and therefore potentially most important aspects of avalanche safety, namely terrain and preparation. I learned a few things such as factors negatively affecting a forested slope that has avalanche potential in the aftermath of a forest fire, a circumstance that has become increasingly likely in recent years. This includes greater wind and sun exposure affecting the snowpack, more snow reaching the ground, and fewer tree ‘bombs’ to stabilize the slope. You can register free for upcoming webinars at AvCan Webinar Series Oct 2021 to Mar 2022. If you participate live, you can interact through online polls and the Q&A. Alternatively, all the webinars are being recorded and are posted at: AvCan Webinar Recordings, including all of last winter’s webinars.

With avalanche safety again being top of mind for winter trips, it is timely for the FMCBC to publish avalanche safety guidelines for its member clubs. This could be done very simply by adapting the KMC guidelines into a general recommendation. Apart from the essential principle of protecting life and limb, this is a key piece of due diligence for any club that is leading trips into potential avalanche terrain.

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