Feds develop avalanche warning system

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Environment

The federal government won't restrict access to Canada's vast wilderness even when the risk of avalanches is extreme, but an updated warning system will help people make safer decisions, says Environment Minister Jim Prentice.

Prentice announced an avalanche danger scale in Calgary Wednesday, just days after a massive slide buried dozens of people attending a snowmobile rally in the backcountry near Revelstoke, B.C.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice (left) looks at the new North American Avalanche Danger Scale with Ian Tomm, executive director Canadian Avalanche Centre in Calgary, Alta. Wednesday. - Photo by The Canadian Press

Calgary -

The federal government won't restrict access to Canada's vast wilderness even when the risk of avalanches is extreme, but an updated warning system will help people make safer decisions, says Environment Minister Jim Prentice.

Prentice announced an avalanche danger scale in Calgary Wednesday, just days after a massive slide buried dozens of people attending a snowmobile rally in the backcountry near Revelstoke, B.C.

Two people died in that slide on Boulder Mountain despite repeated warnings of high avalanche risk.

The new scale builds on one that was already in place by Parks Canada. It continues to have five conditions ranging from low to extreme, but Prentice said it paints a much clearer picture of the risk involved.

The warnings show the likelihood of avalanches being triggered, their expected size and whether travel is recommended.

The icons are made so a skier who might not understand the writing next to the warning will still recognize pictures showing what kind of risk is involved.

It was developed with consultation from the Canadian Avalanche Centre and the United States Forest Service and will be put in place across North America.

"This is the most comprehensive and complete avalanche warning system designed to date," said Prentice.

Ian Tomm, head of the Canadian Avalanche Centre, said the warning system will help make it completely clear to people when they should be willing to take a risk.

"We still have a lot of work to do. We need look no further than the incident at Boulder Mountain just a couple of days ago to know that," he said.

"We remain in awe of the power of nature, and we know we can never lose respect for its authority," said the minister.

Both the governments of Alberta and British Columbia have weighed in on whether there is a need for more regulation following last weekend's avalanche.

B.C. Solicitor General Kash Heed said the province will move ahead with previously announced plans to register all off-road vehicles, including snowmobiles, and implement safety measures such as mandatory helmet use.

Organizations: Canadian Avalanche Centre, Parks Canada, United States Forest Service

Geographic location: Calgary, Boulder Mountain, Canada Revelstoke North America Alberta British Columbia

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  • Polly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    After 20 years and a partner who was a search and rescue pilot , I have been exposed to the harsh realities of S&R. Being a seafaring people we fish for a living , everyday our people go offshore to work in the oil industry . We spend a great deal of time on an unforgiving sea. Gander has a Canadian Military Search and Rescue Unit . My experience tells me that these personnel are some of the best in the world at what they do . Lobbyists have been tirelessly working for years to secure an S&R for the eastern half of the island. Apparently the Ocean Ranger disaster didn't meet the criteria , and now the crash of 491 doesn't seem to be resonating with the Federal government either . Just what has to happen in this province to get their attention . Apparently all it takes is the loss of two lives and the unbelievable nerve of some extreme snowmobilers Scant hours after this tragedy the Feds. have come out with an avalanche warning system , nothing compared to the scale of an S&R system needed in this province . What usually goes on in areas prone to avalanches is a form of sport that is extreme and carried out by willing participants. The irony in all of this is that disasters resulting from leisure activities elicits an immediate response while work related disasters drag on for years . What is needed is a complete change of attitude to the work environment by all governing bodies.

  • James
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    Insightful and well written, Polly. Something to think about.

  • Polly
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    After 20 years and a partner who was a search and rescue pilot , I have been exposed to the harsh realities of S&R. Being a seafaring people we fish for a living , everyday our people go offshore to work in the oil industry . We spend a great deal of time on an unforgiving sea. Gander has a Canadian Military Search and Rescue Unit . My experience tells me that these personnel are some of the best in the world at what they do . Lobbyists have been tirelessly working for years to secure an S&R for the eastern half of the island. Apparently the Ocean Ranger disaster didn't meet the criteria , and now the crash of 491 doesn't seem to be resonating with the Federal government either . Just what has to happen in this province to get their attention . Apparently all it takes is the loss of two lives and the unbelievable nerve of some extreme snowmobilers Scant hours after this tragedy the Feds. have come out with an avalanche warning system , nothing compared to the scale of an S&R system needed in this province . What usually goes on in areas prone to avalanches is a form of sport that is extreme and carried out by willing participants. The irony in all of this is that disasters resulting from leisure activities elicits an immediate response while work related disasters drag on for years . What is needed is a complete change of attitude to the work environment by all governing bodies.

  • James
    July 01, 2010 - 19:55

    Insightful and well written, Polly. Something to think about.