Local search and rescue groups hosted the 25th annual Avalanche Awareness Day at Red Mountain on Saturday.
Rossland and District Search and Rescue (RSAR) was among the search and rescue groups — which also included Castlegar Search and Rescue (CSAR), Grand Forks Search and Rescue, and South Columbia Search and Rescue — that put on the event to raise awareness of avalanche preparedness among those headed into the backcountry.
“[People participating today will] get all the basics of awareness, so that they know they need to know more,” explained Dave Braithwaite, search manager for RSAR. “Most people know what they know, and this will show them that they need to learn more.”
“We just want to expose the public, as much as we can, to the potential dangers that are out there, and to show them some of the tools that they can use to mitigate those circumstances,” said Gord Ihlen, search manager for CSAR.
There were a number of stations for participants to visit during the day, where they learned about snow profiling, forming a proper probe line, how to properly use a transceiver, probe and shovel, and patient “packaging” — which included using a clam shell, an apparatus that separates into two pieces so it can easily be slipped under the patient and then used to lift them up.
Zoe Walton, a member of Red Mountain’s ski patrol, was on hand to teach participants about snow profiling — how to read the snow and understand whether there’s a likelihood of an avalanche. But Walton explains that snow profiling should only confirm what you already know.
The event also included guest speakers, a demonstration of quinzee building, and a demonstration of avalanche airbags, which inflate and can lift those caught in an avalanche above the snow. The day ended with a relay race where teams were tested on the skills they’d learned during the day.
Participants included not only local backcountry users, but also those visiting from abroad.
Jasmine Moore and her family were visiting Rossland from Australia on a three-week ski trip and decided to hone up on their avalanche skills.
“We did some training a couple of years ago,” said Moore. “We want to do a bit of backcountry while we’re here, so we thought we better be on the ball with what we’re doing, make sure we know what we’re doing again and just learn a little bit more technique.”
Local search and rescue groups join forces
RSAR has recently joined with CSAR and Grand Forks Search and Rescue to form the West Kootenay Working Group. The partnership allows the teams access to more members when there is a call out.
“We’ve got three teams that work really close together. We do some combined training, some of our administration we’re sharing as well. It just brings us together a little bit more, so that we’re doing things on the same page,” explained Ihlen. “It gets more members out, more trained, dedicated members coming out. Sometimes you can only get a few members out from each team, and when the three teams come together, it provides a good resource.”
The group has only had to respond to a “couple calls” so far this winter — lost snowmobilers and overdue skiers, all of whom were located. So far none of the calls have been avalanche related.
“It’ll come. The avalanche rating gets high and we get more calls,” said Ihlen.
Those interested in avalanche training can visit the Avalanche Canada website at avalanche.ca/training to learn about upcoming training opportunities in the area.