Winter in the backcountry – scenic, pristine, natural, epic, adventurous. But it can also be a dangerous place, especially when there’s a risk of an avalanche. With so much terrain to explore here in our own backyard, it is tempting to venture off the grid, but if you do, make sure you’re prepared.
Earlier in the year, you may have seen a dramatic video of a snowboarder caught up in a sudden avalanche in the backcountry not far from Whistler. Thankfully, he survived. And he’s lucky for that. Statistics show that only 30% of people caught in an avalanche live to tell about it. He credits much of that to a special backpack.
The JetForce avalanche airbag from Black Diamond Equipment acts a bit like a parachute combined with your car’s airbag. With a tug of a strap, it immediately inflates, helping you to stay near the top of the avalanche surface and offering some protection from flying chunks of ice and snow. And if you are buried by an avalanche, the bag acts as pocket of breathable air to increase your chances of survival.
Of course, there’s more to backcountry safety than a bag of air. With no groomed trails, chair lifts, or even cellphone reception, being prepared, alert, and ready for nearly any situation are the rules of the backcountry.
If you are thinking about heading into the backcountry, the first thing you should do is take an avalanche safety course. Being able to identify risky situations and pre-slide conditions can help you avoid them. And of course, never venture out alone, plot out your general route ahead of time, and always let someone outside of your group know your plans and when you expect to be back.
Other things to consider when taking part in winter activities in the backcountry:
- Pack a portable kit with essential tools and first aid supplies
- Dress for the weather and be prepared for sudden changes
- Bring food and water to keep you fueled, hydrated, and alert
- Watch out for and be respectful of wildlife – they’re not always happy to see you
And of course, the backcountry isn’t for everyone. Know your limitations (physical and mental) and stick within them. If you’re the kind of person who defines “outdoorsy” as drinks on a patio, every mountain resort in BC has great groomed trails and lodges for you.
For more information
- Whistler snowboarder survives avalanche thanks to inflatable backpack, CBC British Columbia
- Backcountry safety, Backcountry Skiing Canada
- A case for avalanche education, Backcountry