Course offers snow safety

RON MANZ -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:57 AM ET

The advances in technology for skis and the focus on creating all-mountain equipment has led more and more people heading to the backcountry to enjoy wilderness experiences unavailable in the in past.

The proximity of Calgary to some of the most incredible mountain terrain in the world and the opening of this new area to more people is somewhat of a double edged-sword though.

It is creating all kinds of new enthusiasts who are discovering a whole new form of recreation but, at the same time, many are heading there without the qualifications to do it safely.

It is one reason why avalanche courses are now more important than ever and why the demand to enroll in them is greater than ever right now in the Calgary area.

"If people head to the backcountry and don't know what to look for, there is a significant chance they will become a statistic," points out Albi Sole, avalanche program co-ordinator at the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre.

"People need to take an avalanche course so they truly can appreciate all the backcountry has to offer."

The courses being offered first and foremost are designed to teach individuals how to recognize terrain with avalanche danger. They are also aimed at teaching people how to recognize the signs of highest danger so people can determine where it is best to go for safety reasons. Being able to read the avalanche forecast is another key point of the instruction.

"We stress self rescue techniques," says Sole. "By the time an organized rescue will get to the site of an avalanche, if you were caught in it, you will be dead likely. It is critical that everyone in the group you go with knows how to rescue the others in that group. Most people who survive an avalanche are actually dug out by someone who was with them."

The University of Calgary avalanche courses are normally two-day sessions. The first day is class-room instruction on the signs of avalanches and how to properly use a transceiver, probe and shovel in the event of an avalanche. The second day is designed for hands-on experience. You are taken into Kananaskis country to see first hand the signs to look for, for avalanches and to test out use of the equipment.

"If you are not careful in the backcountry, there can be serious consequences," says Sole. "It is important to prepare yourself for the worst. Get the right training before you go out. It will give you an advantage once you get there and ensure your experiences in mountain conditions will be safe and memorable."

Sole points out many more skiers are indeed taking advantage of these courses but he says snowmobilers still aren't getting the message.

"Many more fatalities from avalanches are happening in recent years from people taking snowmobiles into unsafe territory rather than skiers. They are untrained and unequipped to be in those locations, putting themselves in deadly circumstances. It seems many believe their big powerful machines will save them and that avalanche training doesn't apply to them. They couldn't be more wrong."

The U of C offers avalanche courses virtually every weekend through to April.

The next course available is Dec. 30-31 but registration is being taken now for courses planned through to April. Contact the U of C at 220-5038 for more information.


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