COMMENTARY · 23rd March 2010
Kash Heed - Min. Public Safety
In the last week alone, three separate avalanches have resulted in the tragic deaths of five individuals in British Columbia's backcountry. As a result of these events, many questions are being raised about how backcountry recreationists approach avalanche awareness and safety.
As the minister responsible for public safety in British Columbia, I've been asked repeatedly, "What can be done to prevent similar occurrences in the future?" Is the answer regulation, fines, more education, or a combination of the three? Some say yes. Others say no - we have a right to self-determination and to set our own limits on the amount of risk we wish to take as individuals. It's a debate that happens every year, just as lives are needlessly lost to avalanches every winter season.
As in any debate, often the clearest path is found when a balanced course of action is charted. And backcountry experts agree - key to balance in this debate is education, and ensuring those who venture into B.C.'s wilderness know what the risks are and have taken the necessary precautions to mitigate those risks. Awareness is key to our government's plan to improve backcountry safety for all users.
In 2003, the Province began providing $125,000 annually to the Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC). In 2009, we increased funding for the CAC by $25,000 to $150,000 to improve forecasting and public awareness of avalanche risk. We also added signs on major highways coming into B.C. to encourage snowmobilers to call 1-800 667-1105 for the latest avalanche information. And we will continue to explore ways to increase avalanche awareness activities with stakeholder groups, including municipalities like Fernie, Revelstoke and the North Shore.
But government cannot do this alone. There needs to be a shift in thinking and action, and it starts with the individual. It starts with informed accountability; not only for one's personal safety, but for the safety of those around them and for those who may be called on to help in a rescue situation.
It's often forgotten that B.C.'s highly trained and skilled search and rescue members are a network of volunteers. They offer their time and expertise selflessly and as such, deserve our commitment to keeping them as safe as possible during a mission.
In order to assist them with their life-saving work, just this winter the Province purchased six helicopter-based avalanche beacon signal receivers to enable Search and Rescue groups in Fernie, Revelstoke, Nelson, Golden, Whistler and North Vancouver to rapidly search an avalanche deposit from the air, increasing emergency responders' safety and increasing the likelihood of survival for victims by reducing search times.
In combination with increased awareness, by November 2011 we will have new policies in place for off-road vehicles (ORVs), including snowmobiles, which will assist riders with the safe operation of their recreational machines. These include mandatory vehicle registration of all ORVs at sale and resale, a licence plate or decal to identify irresponsible ORV riders and track stolen ORVs and an expanded definition of ORVs that will allow local government to enact bylaws such as restricting access, setting noise levels and designating specific trails.
As well, all ORV riders will be required to wear a helmet and use lights for low-visibility conditions on Crown land, including road rights of way. Additional measures will also be brought in to better protect youth under 16 years of age, such as adult supervision, appropriately sized machines for age and weight, and reduced speed limits.
Let there be no mistake. Those who continue to ignore available information on avalanche conditions and/or do not abide by the new ORV policies will face consequences. Where appropriate, the full force of the law will be applied. The right to free determination does not extend to making reckless decisions that may endanger others. As far as I'm concerned, there's no debate on that point.
Go 4 it
Comment by Jim Ippel on 26th March 2010
You expert sledders and back country enthusiasts who profess to know more than the avalanche experts, please continue with your dangerous activities.
Please don't expect Search & Rescue, the Taxpayer, and Volunteers to get your sorry a$$e$ out of trouble because you knowingly disregarded the warning signs, and the warnings of people in the know. Why should these people put their lives on the line because of your STUPIDITY.
useless money waste
Comment by terry unrau on 24th March 2010
As an avid outdoors person, i dirt bke, quad and snowmobile. I am a member of search and rescue and pres of the Skeena Valley Snowmobile Association. First and formost we as sledders already have reg and plate our sleds. As far as dirt bike and quad i don't think there is an avalanche issue! So why this big push? Yes the sleds today are able to make it higher into the alpine and are capable of setting of an avy but how does a plate stop this from happening? prehaps education would be a more appropriate approch!
Comment by Eric Gavelin on 23rd March 2010
legislate the backcountry Bah to that. As a local resident I have spent most of my life in the backcountry have been witness to avalanches with both good and bad outcomes. We are all aware of the risks some choose to go when they shouldn't and some get killed. By contrast driving a car is a million times more risky.
"helicopter-based avalanche beacon signal receivers to enable Search and Rescue "
prime example of a huge waste of cash this is merely body recovery.
Full force of the law eh. A fine for triggering avalanche? Do you get fine for driving to Smithers when there is a foot of snow on the road? I for one will not obey this legislation and I scoff at how they intend to enforce it. Another huge pile of money thrown down the toilet.
Who exactly are these experts. All of the experts I have heard comment are backcountry ski tour experts and do not have any sort of grasp on the differences associated with riding a snow machine. Many of these experts have expressed their bias against powersport.
Avalanche course good idea it could save your life. Beacons probes shovels all very good ideas. Bottom line is if you get caught in a avalanche and no one is there to dig you out you are dead.
We are allowed to drink and smoke legally and these are far more dangerous activities. You can take my personal freedom from my smiling frozen corpse.
Now get out of my way I have some exploring to do and am not willing to give up this right, neither should you.