The hills are alive

Imagine one second you’re comfortably skiing, and a few seconds later you’re buried beneath thousands of pounds of snow, running out of air; this is the harsh reality of an avalanche. But it is survivable if you have the right knowledge.

About 150 people gathered to learn about avalanche safety on Sat., Nov. 25. Members of the general public were able to meet with local experts and practice using safety equipment at the Avalanche Awareness clinic at Edworthy Park.

"The objective behind the event is two-fold," said Odyssey Recreational Adventures Director of marketing and sales Robert Long, who coordinated the event. "One is education, and the second is to gather information about people’s general awareness of avalanches."

Participants were asked to complete surveys that rated their level of avalanche education and offered brief safety instruction.

"The most important thing to do is educate yourself, equip yourself, and err on the side of caution," said Long. "A recreational avalanche course is $100; it’s an easy, cheap course."

In terms of equipment, Long insists people should carry an avalanche transceiver ($250-500), a probe ($50-75), a shovel ($50-70), and optionally a radio or telephone and an inatable avalanche device such an avalanche balloon system.

"[An ABS] inflates around you and allows you to remain on the surface of an avalanche," said Long. "You are a lot more likely to survive and people can find you quicker if you stay closer to the surface."

Long also had the following advice to avoid being a victim.

"The first thing you need to do is call the Canadian Avalanche Association or log on to their Web site," said Long. "The second thing would be to travel with experienced people and make sure everyone has equipment and knows how to use it. The third thing would be to look at your surroundings to determine the degree of risk… based on the terrain and recent conditions."

Long also stressed that you should have knowledge of the terrain; ski away from quanasses–areas below accumulated snow–and ski in a group that can mount a rescue if one member becomes a victim.

"In western Canada [last year], I believe there were 14 victims of avalanches," said Long. "This year, in the 2000/2001 season, we’ve already had three."

Long believes that the number of avalanche victims could be reduced through education.

"People need to not only know that the information is out there, but know how to access and apply it," he said.

For more information, contact the Canadian Avalanche Association at 1-800-667-1105 or visit their web site at <<www.avalanche.ca>>.

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