A safety message to Alberta sledders from Avalanche Canada

Spring may be around the corner but avalanche season is far from over. March is the deadliest month for avalanche fatalities and Avalanche Canada is focusing its safety message on Alberta’s snowmobilers.

  • Last year, 15 people died in avalanches; 12 were snowmobilers.
  • Over the past five years, 45 people were killed in avalanches; 24 of them while snowmobiling.
  • All of the snowmobiling accidents over the past five years occurred in BC; two-thirds of the victims were Alberta residents.
  • Of those Alberta residents, 73% were from communities within 150 km of Edmonton.
  • All these victims were male.

“Unlike other user groups, snowmobiling avalanche fatalities are showing a clear pattern,” Gilles Valade, executive director of Avalanche Canada, sid in a statement. “When we see such a cluster in terms of place of residence, it raises a concern that our safety messages aren’t reaching the people who clearly need it most.”

Curtis Pawliuk of the Valemount and Area Recreation District, a popular snowmobiling destination for Alberta riders, said that too often sledders make “terrain choices that simply do not fit the conditions.”

“These people are getting lucky,” he said. “While the snowmobile community has come a long way, we need to start seeing greater buy-in and respect for the hazards of the backcountry.”

Valade said an Avalanche Skills Training course is the first step for anyone who uses the backcountry in winter.

“More than 8,000 people take this training each season,” he said. “Unfortunately, less than 15% of these students are snowmobilers. Convincing more sledders to take this training where they will learn safe travel techniques for avalanche terrain and how to self-rescue is a significant goal for Avalanche Canada.”

Everyone in a backcountry party needs to have an avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel. For current avalanche conditions, check www.avalanche.ca. For information on training, click on the “Learn” tab.