District Donates Truck to the Canadian Avalanche Centre

Lynsey Kitching

Town council last Wednesday, donated a used fire truck to the crew at the Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC). Also, Jeff Cool donated the trailer on the back, which he built to help transport gear and snowmobiles for the CAC.

There were smiles all around when Carol Savage, Snowmobile Program Coordinator and Grant Helgeson, Public Avalanche Forecaster, met with town council to accept the keys to their newly donated truck. The district donated the bright red fire truck, which is a 2001 three quarter tonne Chevy to the Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC) as well as a homemade trailer from Jeff Cool, a local welder and business owner.
Cool drove his truck up the steps of town hall and then everyone including Mayor Wren helped attach the trailer to the hitch.
The CAC is a non-profit, non government organization, which relies on sponsorship, government funding and as Savage says, “donations like this, which is amazing for us to have.”
“We are the organization for public avalanche safety in Canada. Our core programs and services are putting out avalanche forecasts as well as public outreach and education. Many of our members are often involved in avalanche rescues.”
BC is one of Canada’s most likely places to experience an avalanche because of all the mountains and the centre warns that in the last few years snowmobiling has become the back country activity most affected by avalanches.
Tumbler Ridge has a reputation for good riding within the sledding community, so avalanche safety, training and monitoring is important to keeping visitors and residents safe. “Depending on the year anywhere from four to 20 people have been caught in avalanches,” says Helgeson, “Death by avalanche is actually the leading cause of death from a natural phenomenon.”
Because of the popularity of recreational activity here in the north, the CAC, with $50,000 in funding from BC’s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (MFLNRO) and the Apache Corporation have launched the CAC’s North Rockies Pilot Project, which will lay the foundation for establishing a regular avalanche forecasting program for the region.
“Creating an avalanche forecast for the North Rockies has been a dream of ours for many years,” says Karl Klassen, acting Executive Director of the CAC. “This region encompasses many popular winter recreational areas, where public safety can be increased through better avalanche forecasts. Today, through this generous funding, we can start work on defining the future for avalanche safety in the North Rockies.”
The idea behind it is to make recommendations for improved avalanche safety products in the region going forward. There is some outreach involved, but funding is really to get people up here to look at the snow so we can have an improved data stream to provide in the bulletins. That is why these things are important. Generating support from local communities, getting out, shaking hands and letting people know who we are and what we do.” says Helgeson.
Avalanche forecasting is a blend between many things and to be good at it takes years of experience and schooling, “It’s a long haul,” says Helgeson with a sigh, seeming very happy to be done with the schooling and into the field.

He says, “We go to the local trail heads, get on the sleds, ride into the mountain and start digging in the snow. By doing this, we are able to see the layers and the different stratification going on. With this we can decide where our weak layers are and how strong the snowpack is. After you have all those actual things, you look at what is going to happen with the weather and give your best guess as to what the snowpack is going to do for the weekend.”
The North Rockies report comes out every Thursday on the CAC website. That is the go to place for avalanche information in the region. “That’s really where we publish all the data we have collected throughout the week. We are the avalanche people for all of Canada. Every Thursday at about four or five o’clock it goes live. That’s what people should do first before deciding what to do for the weekend,” advises Helgeson.
The grant from the province will allow the CAC to get more Avalanche Forecasters out to the region to monitor the snow and advise riders of the conditions and places to avoid. However, one of their best tools for getting information about danger areas are the riders themselves.
Helgeson says, “If you see interesting things in the back country and want to get involved, just jump on the website and email us at Forecaster@avalanche.ca, for observations or recent avalanches. Include a photo and a GPS location, that’s a lot of help. If you see anything weird out there, we’d love to hear about it because it’s a huge region.”
The weekend courses available from CAC on avalanche safety are available to learn more about avalanche safety and how to read the snow and weather. Helgeson says the course is very beneficial to those who spend time out in the mountains. 
“It will allow you to have a look at the mountains and know the kind of things you should look out for and that should be alarming. It’s more than I could really say. The thing is to get the course and read the bulletins. Even more simple is to have an avalanche transceiver, shovel, probe, and know how to use them. You need to have all three of these things to really stay safe in the back country.”
Visit www.avalanche.ca for more information on avalanches or anything to do with snow.