While most people see the winter as a time to huddle inside by a fireplace with a cup of tea and read a book… (or perhaps huddle in front of a Canuck’s game with a beer) there are those of us who can’t wait for mounds of snow to cover our local mountains. Skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, & winter camping are a few of the fun things you can do during a B.C. winter. However, getting outdoors during this time of year increases the risk of things going wrong, and the stakes if they do. The days are a lot shorter, the temperature is a lot colder, avalanches can occur in the backcountry, tree wells are a hazard, and the list goes on. All the same general outdoor safety rules apply, including to always carrying the ten essentials, but you also need to take a few extra precautionary steps.
We’re not going to provide a lot of info here, but rather direct you to some great sources for information on avalanche safety:
- Avalanche Canada – Avalanche Canada provides all the bulletins, events, and info you will need for public avalanche safety.
- Avalanche First Response Training is an online course that is very useful tool to help learn the basic skills for avalanche rescue.
If you are going to be heading out into any areas that have even a remote chance of avalanche, you should prepare yourself by taking the Avalanche Skills Training (AST-1) course. For $200 – $300 and 2 days of your time, it is a worthwhile investment, and is actually quite fun. You can take the course locally with the following places.
Vancouver and Whistler
Powder Guides (www.powderguides.com)
Canada West Mountain School (www.themountainschool.com)
Coast Mountain Guides (www.coastmountainguides.com)
Grouse Mountain (www.grousemountain.com)
B.C. Ski Guides (www.bcskiguides.com)
Mountain Skills Academy & Adventures (www.mountainskillsacademy.com/)
Altus Mountain Guides (www.altusmountainguides.com/)
I also highly recommend you watch the documentary A Dozen More Turns.
Snowshoeing Tips and Safety
Snowshoeing is a great way to get out into the mountains during the winter. There are several great trails that are free to use, but snowshoeing isn’t always as easy as it looks. There are several things that can go wrong, especially in icy conditions.
First and foremost, I recommend reading this excellent post by Coquitlam SAR Manager Michael Coyle: How to Kill Yourself Snowshoeing.
The perception that winter travel is just as safe as summer travel is wrong. The perception that snowshoes are simple and easy to use is true, but the places you can go with them, although safe in the summer, can be extremely dangerous in the winter and spring. Snow on the ground makes for easy travel on flat terrain, but increasing hazard on steep terrain. Use of proper techniques for the season and the terrain can avoid accidents and deaths.
And here are a few other helpful pointers:
- Stick to the trail.
- Avoid tree wells. They can have deep, loose snow which you may fully submerge into and suffocate.
- Avoid glissading (sliding on your butt) if possible, as you may slide further than intended and over embankments.
- If the trail is well-used and the snow is packed, I find it much easier to use MicroSpikes or Trail Crampons.
- Be aware of cornices.