The Canadian Avalanche Association will be adding an extra avalanche bulletin to their Web site after increased funding from long-time partner Mountain Equipment Co-op.
The donation of $25,000 each year for the next two years will allow CAA to post a Saturday avalanche bulletin, in addition to the usual Monday and Thursday bulletins.
"It's part of our core purpose that people are in the backcountry in a safe and responsible way," said Peter Robinson, the CEO of MEC.
He calls the 20-year partnership with the CAA "a terrific fit."
The avalanche updates on the CAA's Web site, www.avalanche.ca, are one way of making the backcountry safer.
The funding comes at an important time for backcountry users, as March is traditionally the worst month for avalanche accidents.
The warmer March weather entices more people outdoors to enjoy the sun and the longer days.
"People feel like doing things in March because the weather is so nice," said Evan Manners, operations manager for the CAA.
"They are staying out for a longer period of time, which exposes them to more risk."
In March the sun is higher in the sky and the snowpack starts to warm up. As it gets warmer, it loses stability.
"Now the snow above is weakening and skiers and snowmobilers can trigger instabilities. We're almost guaranteed avalanche activity of some sort," said Manners.
MEC's decision to help out the CAA comes at a time when the association's future looked a little bleak.
"It was only at the end of January that we were looking at closing down this program," said Manners.
Earlier this year the provincial government pulled out its $37,500 yearly funding of the program.
The Web site was kept alive by a $30,000 one-time donation from the Canadian Avalanche Foundation in early February.
The MEC funds allow CAA to expand its program this season and provide a much-needed weekend update.
"We recognized there was a critical need for this service," said Robinson.
"We want people to be getting the very best information."
With only two bulletins each week there was sometimes a gap of four days between updated information.
"Often the weather forecast would be somewhat inaccurate which affects the avalanche forecasts," said Manners.
Now the weekend bulletin will provide current information especially for the weekend day-trippers.
"There are lots of folks who day do trips during the weekend," said Manners.
"(A bulletin) mid-weekend will help the day tripper out."
The first Saturday bulletin was available last weekend.
"We're a non-profit association. Our objective is not to squirrel money away," said Manners.
He said the CAA is looking at growth in two areas increasing the number of bulletins to seven days a week and increasing the geographic scope.
Currently there are four zones that are covered by the bulletins. The CAA would like to see that increased to nine to improve accuracy and make the information more useful for backcountry users.
But they will need more funding to see the program expand in the coming years.
It currently costs about $80,000 each year to run the program.
MEC is the oldest sponsor of the avalanche bulletin, having been involved since the CAA was formed in 1981.
Each year it has donated about $5,000.
In the last five years, sales in snow sport gear have doubled at MEC, Robinson said.
"We will always be committed to supporting them," he said.
"The amount will change depending on their needs."
So far this season there have been 10 deaths in B.C. and Alberta due to avalanches.
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