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Government agrees to review avalanche safety

Avalanche safety in B.C.

Avalanche safety in B.C. got a boost last week after Rich Coleman, the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, and Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Wendy McMahon sat down with the Canadian Avalanche Association to discuss the current status of backcountry safety in the province.

Previous to that meeting, the ministry announced plans to fund additional Avalanche Bulletins in between the three weekly bulletins already released by the CAA if weather conditions change suddenly or the hazard increases. Each advisory bulletin will cost the B.C. government approximately $2,500 to produce, and the CAA will remain in charge of the collection and distribution of information.

Still, while the CAA believes the added funding will help, they maintain that most serious avalanches occur when the avalanche risk is pegged at Moderate or Considerable –below High and Extreme on a five-point danger scale.

As a result of discussions last week, the Solicitor General and CAA committed to reviewing and enhancing avalanche safety in the province.

"The recent and tragic loss of life due to avalanches has made it clear that we need to work together to make sure we do everything possible to raise awareness about the risks," said Coleman.

Although no specifics were announced, the government committed to a multi-agency review to develop strategies and long term solutions to resolve ongoing issues. Areas of focus include avalanche forecasting, public education and awareness, up-to-date research, and increasing the frequency and number of zones covered by the Avalanche Bulletin.

"I’ve been working in avalanche safety programs for 20 years in Western Canada, and this is the most positive step I have seen in all that time," said Clair Israelson, the managing director of the CAA. "The B.C. winter tourism industry is vital to the economic health of this province, and whatever we can do to make it safer will benefit all British Columbians."

Government agencies and organizations with a stake in the avalanche issue will meet with interest groups to determine terms of reference and the scope of the review, which they expect to complete by June 30.

The discussion over Avalanche Safety were prompted by two fatal avalanches in the Revelstoke area in the last month that claimed a total of 14 lives, including seven Alberta school children.

While the government does contribute to the Avalanche Bulletin, in January of 2001 they cut their contributions to the CAA by $37,500. The majority of the funding for the bulletin now comes from private corporate sponsors and backcountry organizations.