Avalanche Canada Preparing for Uncertainty

Avalanche Canada is preparing for Uncertainty as the effects of the myriad complexities from the Covid-19 pandemic puts this coming season into its own category.

After a premature end to their forecasting program this past spring, they’ve been spending the summer months getting ready for what could be a pretty significant disruption to usual programming. Regardless of how this rolls out, you can be assured that Avalanche Canada will continue their proud mandate as the national public avalanche safety organization.

Here are their programs:

Senior Forecaster Grant Helgeson works with some of the new data visualization tools developed through the AvID project. Photo by Alex Cooper

Forecasting Challenges
Avalanche Canada’s regional forecasts rely on data coming in from a variety of sources, the most important being InfoEx. InfoEx is a subscription service for professional avalanche operations in Canada. AvCan is one of the many subscribers to this service, which provides our forecasting team with daily snow, weather, and avalanche observations from across western Canada.

The majority of InfoEx subscribers are heli- and cat-skiing operations, an industry that will be significantly affected if border closures, due to Covid-19, extend into the winter. Our team has been developing ideas in anticipation of this possible disruption to our data flow. We will know more as the fall progresses and will be revising our strategies as necessary.

AvID Developments
After last year’s very successful first season, our development team has been working full-time over the summer on phase two of the AvID project, which is developing new data visualization tools for our forecasters. This project has attracted international attention and we have been working with partners in Colorado, who have signed on in principle to adopt AvID and co-develop the next phase.

Reaching New Backcountry Users
Backcountry use has sky-rocketed over the summer and all indicators point to that trend continuing this winter. We have all seen reports of poor choices made by inexperienced users, resulting in record numbers of rescue calls and trash left at public sites. The cost of inexperience and poor choices in the winter backcountry can be deadly. This year, our programs will be even more vital.

We have been creating online material aimed at new users and we’ll soon be launching Avy Savvy, a new online tutorial, aimed at teaching people about:

– avalanche formation
– avalanche terrain
– the Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale
– avalanche forecasts
– safe backcountry travel
– and companion rescue.

Avy Savvy is being built on a new platform and will feature hundred of photos, videos, games, and quizzes to help people enter the avalanche world. We are excited to launch this product later this fall.

All Outreach Online This Year
Avalanche Canada has made the difficult decision to not offer any face-to-face outreach presentations this coming season in light of Covid-19 and the implications of gathering indoors in large groups.

Instead, all our outreach events will take place online. We are excited about the potential benefits: we can run more online webinars, anyone can join, from anywhere; there is no cost to attend; and there are no travel costs associated for our staff.

We have a draft line-up for a webinar series that will run almost every week from mid-October to March. They will run for one hour in the evening and will be recorded and made accessible from our website for those who cannot attend the live session.

The webinars will target various demographics (skiers, sledders, snowshoers, ice climbers, rookies, veterans) and most events will comprise presentations from an AvCan forecaster and a guest speaker. Staying Alive Night, a popular event hosted annually in Revelstoke and Golden, will take place online, as will Canuck Splitfest, which is a major fundraiser held in Revelstoke every January.

As with all plans during the pandemic, we will stay fluid and adaptable to best be able to share our avalanche awareness messaging to all backcountry enthusiasts.

We are anticipating increased demand for outdoor youth programming in schools this winter and our youth program instructors are well prepared to deliver. Photo by Agathe Bernard

Youth Education Going Outdoors, Online
Our youth outreach team is working hard to deliver our programming to students K – 12 this winter. With school districts in Alberta and BC promoting more outdoor learning, we are anticipating an increase in demand for our outdoor training sessions. To meet this demand, we hope to provide each of our youth instructors with a toolbox consisting of transceivers, probes, and shovels, so they can visit schools and teach students about avalanche safety outside. We are working to acquire more toolboxes so we don’t have to move them between different regions.

We are also developing new curriculum to allow online delivery of our winter safety and avalanche awareness sessions, for schools that prefer this option. And of course we will have complete Covid protocols in place for our staff who visit schools that request our traditional classroom delivery.