Province provides $125,000 for avalanche bulletin 

Three-year commitment will allow CAA to publish three times a week

The provincial government has restored funding to the Canadian Avalanche Association after cutting all but $2,500 of their annual $37,500 contribution to the organization in January of 2002.

The $37,500 represented approximately half of the CAA’s total budget.

On Monday the province annoucned it was committing $125,000 a year for three years to the Canadian Avalanche Foundation, the fundraising arm of the CAA.

At the time of the cuts the government said that the responsibility of funding the CAA, which produces regular backcountry avalanche hazard bulletins for Western Canada, belonged with backcountry users, and not taxpayers.

The CAA managed to produce three bulletins a week last season after securing short-term sponsorships from the private sector, operating on a shoe-string budget from their headquarters in Revelstoke. Volunteers and donations also helped to shore up the organization.

Still, B.C. experienced its worst winter for avalanche deaths since the 1980s, with 24 deaths between December and the end of April. A typical year sees about 12 avalanche deaths. Across the country there were 29 deaths from avalanches last winter. The previous high was 25.

Among the dead was a group of seven teenagers from an Alberta private school, who died while ski touring in the Rogers Pass area of Glacier National Park.

Following the well-publicized deaths, the provincial government committed additional funding to the CAA for special bulletins whenever the conditions changed quickly. The government also vowed to review funding for the service.

"Education and awareness help prevent the tragic loss of life we experienced due to avalanches in B.C. last winter," Solicitor General Rich Coleman said in announcing the new funding commitment Monday. "Our goal for this new funding is better public safety through enhanced partnerships between government, the private sector and avalanche groups."

Most of the money will go towards the public avalanche bulletin, which will be published three times each week this winter. The bulletin, which has been published for 12 years, provides information on snowfalls, snow stability and avalanche probability in various regions of B.C. and Alberta. The regions covered include the South Coast, North Columbia, South Columbia, Kootenay Boundary and the South Rockies.

In addition to the CAA reports, the CAA also collects reports from various partners in the province that publish avalanche reports for specific areas, including Glacier National Park, Banff/Yoho/Kootenay National Parks, Jasper National Park, Waterton Lakes National Park, Kananaskis Country, Whistler-Blackcomb’s Backcountry Advisory and the North Shore Avalanche Advisory.

The bulletin also provides a danger scale for each region, ranging from Low to Extreme, to help backcountry users assess the risks and take the necessary precautions.

With the funding, the B.C. government has asked the CAA to extend its mandate to spread public avalanche awareness and education across Canada.

Although the new funding brings certainty to the CAA for three years, the foundation is hoping for more.

"The B.C. government is doing its part to support backcountry safety and avalanche awareness and I hope Alberta and Ottawa join this partnership," said Justin Trudeau, a director of the Canadian Avalanche Foundation.

Trudeau, the son of the late former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, lost his younger brother Michel to an avalanche in the Kootenays in 1998.

"I’ll be working with other directors of the foundation to develop an effective and ongoing avalanche safety strategy with all of our partners," Trudeau added.

The new provincial funding was the result of a general review of avalanche safety ordered by the province last winter after 14 avalanche deaths, including the Alberta students, were recorded in two weeks.

The CAA, which as recently as last week had no idea what to expect from the provincial government, was ecstatic to hear Coleman’s announcement.

"Today’s announcement is a landmark," said Bill Mark, president of the CAA. "For the first time the B.C. government has recognized the significant role they play in delivering avalanche awareness programs for the public.

"Until now, the CAA has had to rely on private sector sponsors and donations to pay for these public safety programs. The B.C. contribution matches the amount pledged this year by our private sector sponsors and the public, and will bring some financial security to enhance these programs."

Down the road, the CAA still hopes to increase avalanche reporting in some regions, as well as to increase the frequency of avalanche bulletins to five days a week.

Parks Canada also completed a report on avalanche awareness this summer that recommended, among other things, an increase in education and awareness for the public. In addition, the report recommended changing the language in bulletins and hazard ratings to make them more accessible to the public.

For avalanche bulletins and more information on the CAA, visit www.avalanche.ca.

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