Whistler Blackcomb ski patrollers concerned by the number of unprepared people in the backcountry 

Most mountain users obeying signs and rules

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF WHISTLER BLACKCOMB, COASTPHOTO.COM
  • Photo courtesy of Whistler Blackcomb, Coastphoto.com

With early season conditions still in effect, Whistler Blackcomb ski patrol are pleased that people are generally keeping within the boundaries, or at least on groomed runs. However, they are concerned what could happen when more snow falls - enough to hide logs, rocks, creeks and other obstacles, but not enough to ski or snowboard over them.

"It's been pretty good this year so far, knock on wood," said Peter Jean, the assistant safety manager for Whistler Blackcomb. "We're still seeing people skiing out below the boundary to get to the valley, but for the most part there's so little snow at the lower elevations that people are sticking to the groomed runs and downloading from Olympic Station or Base II.

"Honestly, we just don't have enough snow (for people to go into the trees), but when we get another 80 centimetres or so the worry factor will go up and we'll put out alerts again on Facebook and Twitter. A lot of the stuff will get covered up, and there will be a lot of unmarked stuff just below the surface."

With snow depths shallow at lower elevations, a lot of people are heading into the alpine to go ski touring, despite the fact that the area is currently closed and none of the high alpine lifts are turning. While they can't stop people from using the backcountry outside the resort's boundaries, Jean said that some people are clearly not prepared.

"We'd like to see all the folks that are accessing the terrain outside our temporary boundaries to make sure they're skiing with the appropriate avalanche gear - shovel, transceiver, probe - and that they're prepared to use them and know how to use them, and they have partners with them as well. We're seeing a lot of people out there that don't have any business being out there with the equipment they have."

While the avalanche risk is moderate, Jean said there have been several out-of-bounds avalanches in certain terrain, and he is advising everyone to check the daily bulletin issued by Whistler Blackcomb ski patrol as well as the updates for the area posted by the Canadian Avalanche Centre (www.avalanche.ca).

No passes have been taken yet as a result of people heading into avalanche closures, "but the season is still young," said Jean.

"I'm hoping people are getting the message that we will take away passes for up to a year for people who violate our closures. We really try as a mountain to open as quickly as possible and as early in the season as possible so people aren't confronted with closures."

To that end, Jean said there were no plans to open the alpine until more snow falls and ski patrol determines it's safe.

"We won't be opening the Peak (Express Chair) until it's safe to get up there," he said. "It's still pretty rocky up there and not quite safe yet. It's looking good for the weekend with snow falling above Olympic Station, and as we all know living out here, the coast can bring snow pretty quickly."

As well, in light of the recent fatality of a 25-year-old man riding a crazy carpet at Sun Peaks after he slammed into a lift tower, Jean reminds people that Whistler Blackcomb is closed to everyone after dark, including tobogganers.

"We want to make sure the public is not accessing our terrain after operating hours, it can be a dangerous place out there. There are winch cats, groomers, sleds and other machinery, and a lot of hazards that you can't see at night. People should just wait for daytime when they can access safe, groomed runs."

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