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Avalanche Day promotes good judgement, training

A Mount Washington Patroller examines some terrain off the backside of the mountain. - Photo courtesy Mount Washington Alpine Resort
A Mount Washington Patroller examines some terrain off the backside of the mountain.
— image credit: Photo courtesy Mount Washington Alpine Resort

In light of recent events in the BC backcountry and closer to home at Strathcona Provincial Park, the timing of Avalanche Awareness Day on Mount Washington couldn’t be better.

The one day event takes place this Sunday, Jan. 20 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and features demos designed to educate and promote snow safety for those interested in mountain travel.

“We’ve been running our Avalanche Awareness Days for a number of years now in partnership with the Canadian Avalanche Association,” explains resort spokesperson Brent Curtain. “And in light of what we’ve seen lately in the headlines, we hope to see increased interest from skiers and boarders looking to learn more about how to do these activities safely.”

Mount Washington’s Avalanche Awareness Day will offer a variety of demos designed to introduce attendees to everything from technical backcountry gear to digging and analyzing snow pits. A beacon race will add an element of fun to the event and give bragging rights to the fastest person using a transceiver.

“If there’s one key point we need to get across to any new backcountry user on Vancouver Island – it’s the fact that avalanches do happen here,” says Mount Washington Patrol Director Jesse Percival. “We perform daily assessments of snow stability and hazard and when it’s required we will perform control techniques that include ski cutting and explosive deployment.”

That happens within the resort but Percival warns about the potential dangers facing backcountry users.

“Once you head into the backcountry there are no safeguards in place. Good judgment, training and knowledge are essential for those considering backcountry travel. Plus you should never head out alone.”

On Mount Washington, steeper terrain in the popular Outback and West Basin areas are part of the regular curriculum of avalanche control work. Mount Washington’s Pro Patrol employ trained Avalanche Forecasters and Technicians to perform control work on the mountain. These Avy Techs are frequently used by Comox Valley Search and Rescue to assist in backcountry rescue.

Mount Washington Avalanche Forecaster Bill Phipps volunteered his time in the recent rescue last week in Strathcona Provincial Park.

“Having trained forecasters and technicians are essential in operating a mountain like Mount Washington,” says Percival. “They assess and control the avalanche hazard within the resort and frequently support rescue efforts in the surrounding area.”

In the backcountry and beyond the patrolled boundaries of the Resort, the slopes are not controlled and this is where the greater risks exist for skiers and boarders. “You need the proper training and tools to perform self-rescue when venturing into uncontrolled terrain,” adds Percival.

In addition to the demos, a silent auction will run on Sunday and offer guests a chance to bid on various items used for enjoying your time on snow.

Grab some extra cash and bid on some items as all proceeds will go to the Canadian Avalanche Association (CAA).

The CAA uses the money to continue providing snow safety educational programs and maintenance of various avalanche bulletins for all regions of the province through the Canadian Avalanche Centre.

To sign up for the demos or to bid on the silent auction items, visit the tents on the flats in front of Mtn Tek on Sunday.

All clinics will be held in the Beacon Basin on the Whiskey Jack flats, which is a short walk from the Alpine Lodge. For more information on the Avy Awareness Day, visit the events calendar online at mountwashington.ca.

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