Outsmarting the dragon 

Avalanche experts to share insights, new data at workshop

While snow seems to be a constant, our understanding of it has evolved considerably in recent years – at least when it comes to the issue of avalanche safety.

Understanding the how and why of avalanches has become a highly specialized science, and the body of knowledge is continually changing and being updated, as are the best practices people can take to avoid avalanches, and mitigate their impact. What was standard procedure even a few years ago may not be recommended today, and even the basic equipment has changed.

This Saturday, Nov. 19, the Canadian Avalanche Centre will share all the latest data and wisdom with backcountry users through eight featured speakers. The third annual Backcountry Avalanche Workshop, sponsored by Columbia Brewery, takes place in Vancouver at the Ridge Theatre, at 3131 Arbutus Street.

Avalanche forecaster Ilya Storm of the CAC explains who this all-day workshop will benefit.

"This is for anyone who goes backcountry and wants to know the latest information," he said. "You wouldn’t go driving in the snow without preparing first, and just as we prepare by putting on our snow tires to get to the mountains, we need to tune up our minds so we can always make the best judgments we can out there. It’s life and death sometimes."

Avalanche forecasting and knowledge is evolving yearly, Storm adds, and Saturday’s presenters will be sharing the latest information and insights.

"We have people like Bruce Jamieson coming in, who is an avalanche researcher at the University of Calgary. He’ll be talking about practical new tools for snow profile interpretation," said Storm. "We all dig holes in the snow and collect certain things, and he’s gong to help us figure out what are the most valuable things to collect and how to make sense of what you find.

"We have people like Pascal Hägeli, who will talk about the Canadian Avalanche Decision Framework project that he’s working on, and how we’re developing a Canadian solution. It’s exciting new research on how people make decisions, and how they can make better decisions."

One of the most riveting speakers should be Ken Wylie, an International Federation of Mountain Guides Association certified guide who was closely involved in two fatal avalanches in 2003 around Kootenay Park that claimed 14 lives.

Wylie was the last person dug out alive from the Durrand Glacier slide that killed snowboard legend Craig Kelly and six other experienced backcountry travelers. Two weeks later he was part of the rescue crew at Kodak Creek, where seven Alberta school children were killed in a massive slide.

"It was a life-altering winter for Ken, and he’s going to be reflecting back and looking forward at the lessons learned and the insights into avalanches," said Storm.

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