If there is one thing each of us knows it is that Mother Nature can never be taken for granted.
Over the last several days we have learned of a spate of avalanches, one of which came close to claiming a life, while other slides injured those caught in the maelstrom.
Our first big storm also brought the usual, though frustrating, chaos on the highway (as well as glee from all the snowsliders out there!).
Every year we seem to have to deal with drivers who haven't grasped the concept of snow tires. Even without the designation of mountain highway for the Sea to Sky highway, you would think that when Environment Canada issues a weather warning for snow you wouldn't try and drive to the resort on summer, or even all-season tires.
But one only had to look at the Facebook and Twitter photos at the beginning of this week to see that limo drivers and others were on the road when they should not have been.
The Sea to Sky Highway is clearly designated as one where motorists must carry chains, or use winter tires, from October 1 to March 31 — yet there are still drivers out there who ignore this regulation, or are unaware of the rules.
Take travelling guests to Whistler, for example. When they pick up their cars or SUVs from airport rental agencies they don't come with snow tires — there is no policy which regulates that these vehicles must have winter tires despite the highway regulation.
A clear example of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing? A cost-saving measure?... You decide.
According to the website for the B.C. Ministry of Transportation: "Should you go beyond the signs without the proper equipment, you may be turned around by RCMP, Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement or another policing agency, and be subject to a fine ($121)."
However, turning guests around or closing the highway is a rare occurrence — perhaps that checkpoint at Alice Lake should be more widely used?
Now that the first real storm of the season is out of the way, let's hope that anyone who didn't bother to get snow tires now does so — if past years are anything to go by several more storms will be heading our way in the coming weeks.
There is no doubt that residents and visitors alike are excited to see the fresh snow — the holy grail for many enjoying the resort.
But with Avalanche Canada continuing to release warnings about conditions out of bounds this is not the time to get snow blind to the dangers out there.
As Brad Sills, Whistler Search and Rescue manager, said to me many years ago, ask yourself on your way out the door to enjoy the conditions what the most important thing to do that day is? The answer, said Sills, is coming home for dinner.
There is no doubt that more and more people are heading out into the backcountry and that is a beautiful thing — Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), one of Canada's largest outdoor equipment retailers, reported that sales of backcountry ski equipment were up 40 per cent at the start of the 2012-13 season. That trend has likely continued.
In 2011 BC Parks introduced the ability to purchase backcountry permits. In 2013 a total of 2,371 permits wre registered in 22 provinical parks—an increase of 13 per cent over 2012.
There is little doubt that the amazing improvement in equipment over the last decade has made the backcountry more accessible. Added to this are more accessible trails in the "sidecountry" off the in-bound runs, and even the growth in the number of people heading out to snowshoe.
But safely enjoying the backcountry is not just about equipment, nor is it just about proper safety training (though you must have that) — it is about both of these aspects and the human ability to make decisions.
Of the six factors (FACETS — familiarity, acceptance, consistency, experts, tracks/scarcity, and social facilitation) accepted as the decision-making model for avoiding avalanches, the one that should probably be on everyone's mind these days is scarcity (www.powder.com/stories/the-safe-zone/).
We have been snow starved, but now is not the time to feast without thought. Enjoy the fruits of the storms responsibly and... make sure you get home for dinner.
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