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Coroners Service releases avalanche data

Avalanche preparedness has improved; more can be done to save lives
EYE OPENING INFO The BC Coroners Service has released statistical data as part of an effort to encourage backcountry users to get the training and equipment needed to stay safe in avalanche terrain. Photo submitted

The BC Coroners Service has released some sobering avalanche statistics ahead of a weekend featuring weather conditions perfect for backcountry play.

With the avalanche danger rated as low to moderate and the forecast calling for a mix of sun and cloud Sunday, March 10 ahead of flurries through the early part of the week the Coroners Service has released 16 years of avalanche data to remind backcountry users of the risk avalanches pose for skiers, boarders, hikers and snowmobilers. Dating back to 1996, the lives of 181 people were lost in avalanches across the province.

The Coroners Service is working with the Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC) and Emergency Management BC (EMBC) to further reduce the declining number of avalanche deaths in B.C.

Since 1996 B.C. has logged an average of 10 avalanche-related deaths each year. According to the Coroners Service all the deaths were preventable. The statistics show that 41 per cent of the people killed in avalanches were snowmobiling at the time, 31 per cent were skiing, 18 per cent were heli-skiing, 5 per cent were snowboarding and 4.4 per cent were hiking or climbing. Only 10 per cent of the victims were female.

According to the Coroners Service, avalanche awareness has been improving.

“A higher proportion of backcountry users are carrying essential avalanche safety equipment-transceivers, shovels and probes,” the organization stated in a news release published Friday, March 8. “Avalanche airbag packs are highly effective when worn/deployed properly.”

The Coroners service believes that too many backcountry visitors have not taken enough training to use safety equipment with maximum effectiveness.

Dave Steers with the Pemberton and District Search and Rescue (PDSAR) said his organization gets called out to very few avalanche incidents and when they do it is almost always to recover bodies because most people buried in an avalanche pass away within 15 minutes.

“By the time the call is made to SAR, we muster and get to the scene much more than 15 minutes has passed,” said Steers.

He stressed that assessing conditions and being prepared for self-rescue is vital. The remaining amount of daylight and further avalanche risk often align to prevent rescuers from entering avalanche territory to rescue avalanche victims.

“The area has to be safe for rescuers before we’ll enter,” said Steers. “We can’t jeopardize them.”

Steers noted that while PDSAR doesn’t respond to large numbers of avalanche rescues he pointed out that when conditions are extreme search resources can be stretched thin. On Monday, Jan. 2 of last year Steer said three avalanche incidents were reported on the same day in the area covered by PDSAR.

“Traffic on the Duffey Lake Road is increasing,” said Steers of the growing popularity of the winter visits to backcountry destinations between Pemberton and Lillooet.

Avalanche danger information is available on the Whistler Blackcomb website and also on the CAC website ( The CAC website also offers a basic online avalanche awareness course, along with information on introductory and advanced Avalanche Skills Training courses.

More B.C. avalanche statistics between 1996 and 2013:

• 127 avalanches caused 181 deaths

• the average age of those killed was 36 years

• 68 per cent died in the Interior region

• 21.5 per cent in the Northern region

• 8.3 per cent in the Metro region

• 1.7 per cent in the Island region

• 0.6 per cent in the Fraser region

• the deadliest avalanche season was 2002-03 – 25 people died

• a total of 24 people died in the 2008-09 season