Justin Trudeau in Whistler to raise avalanche safety awareness
A Canadian celebrity is in town this weekend.
But Justin Trudeau is not here to holiday, although he does plan to get some snowboarding in.
He is here to save lives by educating people about avalanches and the danger they can pose to everyone.
"Being adventurous and enjoying the backcountry fully, or whatever you want to do fully, is extraordinarily important," said Trudeau.
"But doing it intelligently and making use of the tools that we have in order to be smart about the risks that you are taking is really my angle on the involvement."
The recent deaths of a filmmaking skier in Rossland and a snowmobiler in Valemount have again put avalanche safety in the headlines.
An average of 12 people die each year in avalanches in Canada. Most deaths occur in B.C.
Backcountry skiers, snowboarders, and snowmobilers comprise the majority of the victims but many still don't bother to learn avalanche safety.
This weekend there is no excuse not to learn more.
The Canadian Avalanche Association will host workshops, equipment demonstrations and hand out information about recreational avalanche courses. You can find them at the base of Whistler Mountain in the village.
There will also be rescue-dog demonstrations and backcountry skill competitions, which aim to educate the public about the hazards of avalanches.
And on Friday night Trudeau will be the special guest at a $150/plate fundraising dinner at Dustys.
Trudeau believes awareness is spreading but it has yet to become second nature to check the Avalanche Awareness Bulletin (www.avalanche.ca) before heading out.
"What we are hoping is that we just keep doing this and we get some more money and we get a more frequent bulletin and one day it will just click for everyone," he said.
He believes ignorance and government cutbacks are putting lives at risk in the backcountry.
Trudeau, whose younger brother Michel died in an avalanche in 1998, wants anyone heading into unpatrolled areas to check the Avalanche Awareness Bulletin before they go.
And he believes the government should be fully funding this life-saving tool.
"It is ridiculous that the government doesnt see this," said Trudeau, who arrived here last night from Montreal where he is studying engineering.
"In Europe where avalanche safety bulletins are almost 100 per cent funded by the government the statistics are clear.
"When Switzerland, I believe, switched from a two day bulletin to a full seven day bulletin avalanche accidents were reduced by over 50 per cent."
Last year the provincial government cut funding to the avalanche bulletin, putting it at risk.
It struggled to stay alive and this year won back some government funding as well as receiving sponsorship from a couple of large industrial supporters.
Currently the bulletin is updated three times a week and covers five regions, with a budget of $87,500. To update it daily and cover nine regions would cost $250,000.
"The interesting thing is that the amount of money we are asking for to push the bulletin up to daily, is equivalent to one big helicopter rescue," said Trudeau.
"It is simple math but governments are always pulled in so many directions and trying to save pennies."
He believes his bother Michel would fully support his advocacy for avalanche safety.
Michel had taken all the right courses and carried all the right equipment when he was swept to his death in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park.
"He should be the Trudeau talking about the backcountry and wilderness stuff," said Justin Trudeau.
"I have met a few of the fabulous people who work with avalanche awareness in the mountains and talking to them I realize, Wow, you are the kind of person my little brother would have grown up into being, and it is a lovely feeling.
"His was not a stupid death. He was doing all the things he was supposed to do, but it is a high-risk sport.
"I wouldnt want to get things so that (Michel) would never have got to go out that day. That is not my goal.
"What we are trying to avoid is the stupid deaths. The people who go out there without equipment, without the information, and just die in ways that could have been so easily avoided."