Mountain community joins to establish backcountry code 

Eight signs installed on Whistler and Blackcomb mountains in early April

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When ski patroller and guide Wayne Flann was ski touring on Blackcomb one day last spring with a high risk of avalanche, he saw something that alarmed him: dozens of riders entering the backcountry without the proper gear.

"I went ski touring with my girlfriend and we came around Disease Ridge later in the day and there was a Size 2.5 avalanche down in the Body Bag Bowl from Blackcomb peak," said Flann, a noted avalanche forecaster field rescue leader for Whistler Search and Rescue.

"I saw at least 25 people go through that area at Body Bag Bowl without gear, and I was like, 'Wow, these people have no clue.'"

With the recent surge in backcountry users, Flann decided he wanted to do something to raise awareness of the proper backcountry protocols, and spearheaded a public forum at the Whistler Museum in November to get insight on developing a backcountry code of conduct.

Five months later, Flann has achieved his goal with the help of some of the province's leading backcountry experts, establishing "The 10 Essentials for Backcountry Exploration," which now appear on eight new signs that were installed at high-traffic areas on Whistler and Blackcomb mountains last week, including at exit points leading into Garibaldi Provincial Park.

Flann consulted with the Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC), Canadian Avalanche Association, Whistler RCMP and the president of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides Keith Reid, as well as local ski patrollers in establishing the list.

The sign, which was designed with the help of Blackcomb Sign Works' Jill Gotto, uses a simple, eye-catching illustration to highlight the basics of backcountry protocol, and includes QR codes linking to Flann's avalanche blog, Whistler Blackcomb's backcountry advisory page, the Whistler Search and Rescue website, the CAC's Sea to Sky avalanche forecast and observation pages.

"We started off making the sign more like the Alpine Responsibility Code, then we shied away from that and went to a point form (format)," Flann said. "I thought we had to have more of a whimsical sign that would attract people."

With only a handful of signs, Flann said it will be easy to amend them in the future or install new signs if need be. With the recent explosion in backcountry users, the most important thing is to get the word out there and ensure everyone is riding in the safest way possible, Flann said.

"For me, it's all about getting the public more educated, and that's what I've been trying to do," he said. "With my blog and those signs, hopefully it helps."

Check out Flann's blog at www.wayneflannavalancheblog.com.

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