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Backcountry safety 101 on Blackcomb

AdventureSmart will introduce public to backcountry basics this weekend
Adventure ambassadors AdventureSmart ambassadors Kelly, left, Sandra Riches, centre, and Whistler Blackcomb's senior rescue dog handler Richard Wyne during last year's Avalanche Awareness Days. Photo submitted

If you're looking for a quick and free introduction to backcountry safety, look no further than the top of Solar chair on Blackcomb Mountain this weekend.

AdventureSmart — a provincial organization aimed at increasing backcountry safety and preparedness — will be directing people to resources and providing a hands-on opportunity to use avalanche-safety gear.

"If you're new to the mountain and want to learn a little bit more about backcountry safety, the event is for you," explained Sandra Riches, provincial coordinator for the organization.

Avalanche beacons will be buried in the snow, and visitors will have the opportunity to locate them using avalanche transceivers.

"People can touch and feel and use transceivers and shovels and probes and see what they're all about and learn how they can carry them and learn where to get training," said Riches.

Hosted by Avalanche Canada, BC AdventureSmart will provide information on avalanche safety, backcountry preparedness, and how to deal with safety issues that can arise when skiing, snowshoeing or hiking.

The information will be given in a casual, first-come, first-served basis and sign up is not required. In addition, a number of "mountain safety challenges and games" will be played, with prizes for participants.

The Whistler event will be mirrored by similar demonstrations in Mount Seymour Provincial Park and Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. The events aim to reduce the number and severity of search and rescue incidents, explained Riches, who noted that with around 1,600 incidents annually, B.C. search and rescue organizations receive more calls than all other provinces combined.

The events are part of a national week-long event called "Avalanche Awareness Days," which is lead by Avalanche Canada.

While meeting with the public, Riches and others will highlight the "three Ts"— trip planning, training, and taking essentials.

"Think about 'what if I get lost? What if I get hurt? And what if I get caught in an avalanche? Do I have the proper essentials to be able to spend the night?'" she said.

Riches is also encouraging people with a passion for the outdoors to consider becoming an AdventureSmart representative.

She will be hosting a free training session on Monday, Jan. 22 aimed at volunteers, who will in turn give presentations on behalf of AdventureSmart.

"I'm looking for people who are enthusiastic and can deliver our message. They can be from any background. The people who live and breathe and sleep in Whistler are the people that I want to be AdventureSmart representatives," she said.

There are 80 search and rescue groups around the province, with around 2,500 search and rescue volunteers responding to calls.

Those interested in becoming an AdventureSmart ambassador can reach Riches at by Thursday, Jan. 18, though no one will be turned away if they show up for the training, which will be held at the Whistler Conference Centre on Monday, Jan. 22 from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.