I have been splitboarding now for about five years, and every season there are more people in the backcountry. Whether they are roaming on wood planks or snowmobiles, everyone is after that adventure, chasing after the best snow, the best views, and that adrenaline rush. You would think that everyone would take all the precautions and prepare themselves when traveling in the backcountry. But every year we hear stories of unfortunate accidents that happen in the mountains due to poor choices, lack of knowledge, and unawareness. However, accidents do happen even when we prepare ourselves and do everything we can to eliminate the risks. By having the right equipment, the skills and education for traveling in the backcountry we can mitigate the risks of avalanches.
Avalanche Skills Training 1 and 2
AST 1 introduces you to the world of traveling in the backcountry. You learn how to recognize avalanche terrain, how to roam in the backcountry safely, how to plan your trips into the backcountry, and how to use your probe, beacon, and shovel for companion rescues. AST 2 digs deeper and builds upon the skills you learned in AST 1. You learn more about planning and travelling through complex mountain terrain, and you learn more about weather conditions and how they affect the snowpack. The U of C Outdoor Centre runs these programs as well as Yamnuska Mountain Adventures, and Capow Guiding.
You wouldn't plan for a summer camping trip without checking the weather, the road conditions, and some reviews of the campsite you are going to. For those same reasons, if not for even more serious ones, you should always check the avalanche bulletin before making final plans for your day roaming in the snow. The Avalanche Bulletin can be accessed online at avalanche.ca or by getting the Avalanche Canada App. The Mountain Information Network is great for getting more detailed reports about riding and avalanche conditions.
First Aid Wilderness
So you have done your AST 1, maybe even your AST 2, you are confident in your skills when it comes to recognizing avalanche terrain, traveling in it and if you had to you would know how to rescue a friend. But what if that rescued friend ends up with a head injury or a broken femur, or they go into shock from their injuries? Do you have a First Aid Kit? Are you going to be able to stabilize them? Do you have a rescue tarp to help them get down the mountain? I highly recommend completing a First Aid Wilderness course. I finished the 40-hour Adventure Medic course through Rocky Mountain Adventure Medicine, and I loved it. Yamnuska Mountain Adventures also offers a similar course.
The last piece of the puzzle is forms of communication. You want to be able to communicate with the individuals in your group as well as search and rescue. The BCA BC Link 2-way radio is perfect for letting your buds know you made it down the run safely, communicating about observations and for singing songs to each other. That last one doesn't always go over well with everyone. Another great tool is the Garmin InReach Explorer+. It comes with topographic maps where you can track your travel using waypoints, you can send and receive text messages, access to weather, and it is an emergency beacon.
Taking the courses and buying the safety gear, is the first step in increasing your safety while roaming in the backcountry. All these skills and tools are of no use if you do not take the time to practice and apply them. Searching for a beacon, using your probe and shovel, practicing your First Aid for shock, extremity and head trauma, and getting comfortable using your rescue tarp. Practice the 'Safety Dance.' Cause if your friends don't do the safety dance, then they are no friends of mine.