Training and equipment prevent avalanche deaths

During the 2010/11 winter season, nine people died when they were caught up in backcountry avalanches

The season for winter recreation in the backcountry is upon us, and the BC Coroners Service (BCCS) is encouraging all those going out to take special care to prevent deaths caused by avalanches.

During the 2010/11 winter season, nine people died when they were caught up in backcountry avalanches, and all of those deaths were preventable.

The coroners’ investigations have shown that two-thirds of the deaths occurred among persons who were snowmobiling at the time. The others were backcountry skiing.

Eight of the nine deaths were of males. The average age of those who died was 44 years. None were children or teenagers.

Only two of the nine resided in British Columbia. The others were visiting from the Prairie provinces.

The BCCS, along with the Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC) and Emergency Management BC, has found avalanche awareness is improving, and more backcountry users are carrying essential avalanche safety equipment – transceivers, shovels and probes.

Furthermore, recommended equipment, such as avalanche balloon packs, are becoming increasingly popular.

However, many still have not taken sufficient training to use that equipment to its greatest effectiveness. A person buried in an avalanche can suffocate in minutes and long before expert help can arrive, so the ability to perform quick and effective rescues is vital.

Information about training courses is provided through the CAC. New this year is the one-day Companion Rescue course, which focuses on the skills needed to respond to an avalanche incident. For more information, see the CAC website at, where you will find a basic online course, as well as information on introductory and advanced avalanche skills training courses. This training is essential for anyone planning to venture into the backcountry in winter.