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BC Coroner and Avalanche Canada Stress Importance of Backcountry Safety

The BC Coroners Service and Avalanche Canada has issued a statement urging backcountry users to think before heading into dangerous terrain.

In the wake of the deaths of five people near McBride on January 29th, the two organizations stress the need for preparedness for backcountry users. A total of 17 snowmobilers were in the Mount Renshaw Alpine Recreation Site when the avalanche first hit.

First Responders, the Coroners Service, and Avalanche Canada say that the majority of the groups had proper rescue equipment with them, and efforts made by friends helped saved the lives of others.

However, notes Gilles Valade, Executive Director of Avalanche Canada, even better than knowing to respond to an avalanche incident is knowing how to prevent one from occurring in the first place.

“Avalanche safety education is essential for all winter backcountry recreationists,” said Valade. “Basic skills, such as recognizing avalanche terrain and not exposing multiple people to overhead hazard, make a big difference in reducing the consequences of an event.”

Equipment alone is not enough, noted Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe. Three of the five fatalities from the Renshaw avalanche had deployed avalanche airbags designed to “float” someone along the surface of a moving avalanche. But the airbags were ineffective in this case because the victims were in a gully at the bottom of a slope – an area where the debris flow of the avalanche is too constricted.

The vast majority of fatal avalanches are triggered by the victim or someone in the victim’s party. Avalanche Skills Training courses teach proper trip planning, terrain selection and safe travel techniques, which can be effective in preventing accidents.

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