How to stay AdventureSmart in the backcountry this winter [VIDEO] 

BC AdventureSmart staff educate backcountry users on winter safety and search and rescue prevention

click to enlarge SAFETY FIRST: BC AdventureSmart outreach educators PJ Richards (right) and Kelly Uren (centre) staff educate trail users on winter safety and search and rescue prevention in the Callaghan Valley. - PHOTO BY MEGAN LALONDE
  • Photo by Megan Lalonde
  • SAFETY FIRST: BC AdventureSmart outreach educators PJ Richards (right) and Kelly Uren (centre) staff educate trail users on winter safety and search and rescue prevention in the Callaghan Valley.

BC AdventureSmart staff spent their weekend in the sun-drenched Sea to Sky corridor, educating outdoor enthusiasts of all ages about how to stay safe in the backcountry before heading off on their winter weekend adventures.

AdventureSmart outreach educators PJ Richards and Kelly Uren were on hand at Callaghan Country’s Alexander Falls touring centre trailhead throughout Saturday and Sunday to increase awareness about snow and mountain safety and outdoor preparedness, in addition to sharing search and rescue prevention resources, necessary gear ideas and AdventureSmart resources.

The weekend outreach event followed a Friday, Jan. 11 presentation to 400 students at Spring Creek Community School in Whistler.

Uren and Richards shared their knowledge about everything from which essentials to pack, to when to call one of B.C.’s 80 Search and Rescue groups, and where to get proper—and, in many cases, even sport specific—backcountry training with each of the cross-country skiers and snowshoers who stopped by the booth for a chat.

“We’re also getting more into training people to offer AdventureSmart presentations … so we can have more people who are able to volunteer (to do workshops) in their communities,” Uren explained.

The pair was also giving out free emergency blankets that can double as a shelter and whistles—on which three short blasts can signify someone in trouble.

Outreach programs, like this weekend’s, help facilitate B.C. AdventureSmart’s mandate to increase outdoor safety awareness as a way to reduce the number and severity of incidents (such as the ones detailed here) across the province.

When it comes to adventuring on the trails and in more remote areas of the corridor, the AdventureSmart team had a few main takeaways, including the three ‘T’s: trip planning, training and taking the essentials.

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“It’s super important to leave that trip plan, whether it’s a text message or sending an email to someone, leaving a note, just letting someone know—and be specific with the trail … because it could take a long time for search and rescue (SAR) to find you if you don’t give them a hint (about where) to exactly zone in,” Urel said. Some friends even post a “trailhead selfie” on social media when heading out, and check back in when they return, she added.

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We hope you are getting outside and enjoying some of these sunny and warm winter days!! 🌄 It is #TripPlan Tuesday and we know we had to re look at couple of our trip plans and decided to alter them for the weather. Remember to always update the responsible person you left your trip plan with if any of your plans change. . . 📸: @michelle.81_ ・・・ Sun Rays for Dayz☀️ 🌲 #BCAdventureSmart #AdventureSmart #SARprevention #SurviveOutside #GetOutside #KnowYourLimits #KnowledgeIsPower #goldenears #goldenearsprovincialpark #goldenearspark #bestforestmood #outdoorvancouver #cascadiaexplored #beautifulbc #discoverbc #bcisbeautiful #ourforest #pnwwonderland #wanderlust #beautyofbc #TripPlan #Train #TakeEssentials

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AdventureSmart cautions outdoor enthusiasts to obtain the knowledge and skills they need before heading out, such as knowing to stop and stay put in case of an emergency or injury, to avoid any creeks or water sources, as well as knowing and staying within your limits.

“People can stay overnight as long as they have the essentials to keep warm and dry, but as soon as you get wet, you are more prone to hypothermia or frostbite—so more likely to become a popsicle. Even if water feels like it’s not so deep or it’s not so cold, just avoid getting wet at all costs, because it will really lower your chances of survival,” Uren said.
click to enlarge how_to_build_a_snowcave.jpg

Backcountry users should also be properly trained in avalanche safety, and reference Avalanche Canada's avalanche forecast, before heading into avalanche terrain.


Uren and Richards reminded skiers, snowshoers and hikers never to head out on the trails without a backpack filled with:

• Extra food: An extra tip from Richards: When you’re packing extra food to keep you sustained in an emergency scenario, try not to pack snacks you like—because who hasn’t been tempted by an extra treat sitting in your pack? One backcountry enthusiast Richards has encountered even swears by packing dry dog food as his emergency meal, though Richards doesn’t encourage everyone to be that extreme.

• Extra water, or a method to treat water

• Extra layers

• An emergency blanket: The thin, metallic emergency blankets they were doling out might conjure up worst-case scenario thoughts of being stranded outside on a cold winter night, but the thin, packable sheet is one item Uren said she never goes into the mountains without—even if those mountains are accessible by a gondola and covered in groomed runs.

“It’s super tiny; I always keep mine in my snowboard jacket. My friend was stuck on a chairlift for three hours one time, and he really could have used it.”

• A headlight—“It gets dark so early, especially in the trees,” cautioned Uren.

• A map and compass

• Emergency communication, for example, a whistle or GPS device

• A first aid kit

• A fire starting kit

And, if you plan on heading into avalanche terrain or think there’s a chance you might, take a transceiver, probe, and shovel—and a partner to rescue you.


“As soon as you realize you’re lost or something’s gone wrong, or if you’ve hurt yourself, don’t hesitate to make that call,” Richards explained. “… It’s safer for our SAR volunteers … and a lot easier to be found a lot faster the sooner you call. We don’t want any deterrent for anyone to not call right away.”

“(SAR would) much rather come out while it’s still sunny out, it’s easier for helicopters to fly—lots of helicopters won’t fly at night so it means they have to wait until the next day to even get the helicopter into the air.”

Uren added that, “People often think SAR is only going for skiers and riders who duck out of bounds, but that’s such a small amount of their rescues.

“We’re also educating people on the reasoning for search and rescues being totally free. Even if people are on vacation or they’re not a citizen, (rescues) are always free, and a lot of people don’t realize that, or they think people should be charged, but search and rescue will never charge anyone, because there’s no price you can put on someone’s life.”

In the event of a backcountry emergency, “First of all, you have to humble yourself and realize that you’re lost or injured and need some outside help,” Uren said.

“(Then) you could signal for help yourself, whether that’s with your cell phone if you have battery and cell phone service, or you could use a beacon of some sort, like an inReach or SPOT device.

“We give away whistles; they’re the emergency communication, so three short blasts for help.

“(You should have left) a trip plan with someone who’s not with you, so that person can follow up with you if you’re not back by the time you said you would be, and then they would call 911 and RCMP would dispatch search and rescue … You don’t have to be missing any length of time in the wilderness, they’ll come looking right away.”


With dogs running and playing around the AdventureSmart tent throughout the weekend, Richards also offered up an important tip when it comes to keeping your pets safe in the backcountry: keep them on a leash.

“It’s more of a safety risk for you not having them on a leash because they don’t know how to be bear aware, or anything like that. If they charge and scare a bear, they might actually bring it back to you … it’s also required in most parks, anyways.”

Those safety risks don’t diminish when bears are hibernating, Richards added. In the winter, “Being in water is a risk, no matter what … You have to make sure (the pet is) not going into a place where you’re going to have to put yourself at risk to get them out of an area,” he said.

“A group was just by (that) said they had to dig their dog out of a tree well because it chased a squirrel, so that would be another example of, if that dog had been on leash, it wouldn’t have gotten into that situation.”

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