Stay safe out there 

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We have all been rejoicing in the amazing and metres-deep snow that is blanketing our home right now—and more is on the way this weekend.

Plans are being made to get out and enjoy it, and we can't help the ear-splitting grins that accompany the planning.

But as you make your lists, take a moment for some sober thought about the risks that always come with our outdoor adventure. While not exactly an albatross around our necks, the little voice of reason and caution is worth listening to right now.

We were all affected by the story of Chris McCrum—the much-loved and respected Squamish man who lost his life in an avalanche during a backcountry trip near Pebble Creek on Jan. 3. (For fundraisers in his honour, search "Chris McCrum" at www.gofundme.com. A Facebook page, Chris Patrick McCrum Memorial, has also been started.)

It was a stark reminder of the dark side of Mother Nature and her playground.

Indeed, right now it is hard not to see avalanche deaths and warning stories across many media in North America and Europe, which is being battered with huge snowstorms.

The Washington Post reported Jan. 15 on an overnight avalanche in Ramsau, central Austria that slammed into a 200-year-old hotel. All 60 visitors and staff, most of whom were from a Danish ski club, got out of the building unharmed.

Much of Europe has been hit by heavy snowfall, causing travel disruption and resulting in 26 deaths in the past few weeks—including ski patrollers. About 40,000 people were trapped in one of Austria's largest ski resorts earlier this week because of the avalanche risk, and many of the country's ski resorts have closed slopes and warned holidaymakers about the dangers, particularly of off-piste skiing.

While we are not quite in the same situation here, allow that niggle of apprehension and nerve to settle if you head into the backcountry—it might save you (always check the conditions at avalanche.ca).

Closer to home, think about that snow on your roof. Is it sliding off? If it's not, you might think of how to get it off without it posing a danger to yourself or those who might unwittingly wander into its slide path. There are even avalanche hazards in our neighbourhoods. Cast a wary eye at the gardens and homes around you and if you are concerned, then knock on some doors and let people know.

Last weekend, the AdventureSmart team came to town to remind us all of the many lessons we should all know about playing in Whistler's outdoors. (Find out more here: piquenewsmagazine.com/whistler/how-to-stay-adventuresmart-in-the-backcountry-this-winter/Content?oid=12777876.)

After all, isn't the point of living close to the backcountry to go out and enjoy it—but be home for dinner? But that means being responsible for your actions while in the outdoors, including being prepared for self-rescue.

It defeats the purpose of the joy found in our wilderness playground for this not to be the experience. If the weather looks bad, if the warnings are there, stay home, cross-country ski in the Callaghan, ski Whistler Blackcomb—there are thousands of amazing backcountry days to come.

Our search and rescue teams have already been out numerous times this winter. While we will know soon how busy Whistler Search and Rescue (WSAR) was in 2018, we know that its volunteer team experienced a 22-per-cent increase in emergency responses between March 7, 2017 and March 4, 2018.

WSAR's 2017 report found that snowmobiling remained the No. 1 cause for emergency responses, with 11 callouts, and was the "single largest contributor to trauma by activity." That was followed closely by ski mountaineering, which resulted in 10 emergency responses. Out-of-bounds skiers (eight), hiking (eight), and mountain biking (seven), were also near the top of the list.

As we get set to enjoy more fresh snow this weekend, don't let your enthusiasm cloud your judgment. Remember it might not be just your life you are putting at risk though poor decision-making.

Play safe out there.

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