Backcountry still busy as Island avalanche hazard remains high

Backcountry still busy as Island avalanche hazard remains high

The backcountry on Mount Washington was alive with people looking for an outdoor escape from COVID-19 hibernation on Sunday, despite increased avalanche danger.

A high avalanche hazard was recently declared by forecasters at the Vancouver Island Avalanche Bulletin and will remain in place Monday. It could also be extended further due to an approaching storm that is expected to hit the mid-Island tomorrow.

Scott Francis and his friends, who were heading out on their snowmobiles Sunday, were among those aware of the high avalanche risk in the area.

“We just stay off the unstable terrain, keep it safe, stay in the trees, stay off open faces, and keep an eye on your buddies,” said Francis. “Don’t ever go alone.”

“You always want to have safety gear, you never want to use it but when the time comes you want to be prepared,” adds Liam Chaba.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in more people than ever looking for something to do outdoors.

Jan Neuspiel, director of Island Alpine Guides who teaches backcountry safety, says this season he’ll be teaching 400 people the right things to do — twice the number during an average year.

“The basic message is when avalanche danger is high stay out of avalanche terrain,” he said. “High danger means natural avalanches are likely. In other words, avalanches are happening whether you’re there or not. That means avalanches triggered by human beings are even more likely because of course the added load of a person on skis or on a snowmobile or on snowshoes.”

Cornices can also be deadly.

BC AdventureSmart shared a video of a snow biker getting dangerously close to the overhanging edge of snow on a mountain near Golden, B.C. The cornice broke away and the man barely escaped by jumping off his bike before it went down with the snow.

“The break-off point like we saw in the video is actually back farther than you think and we don’t really know where that line is but we have to assume it goes back a long way to keep safe,” said Sandra Riches, executive director of BC AdventureSmart. “So understanding the risks, understanding what a cornice is, knowing how to protect yourself and avoid them like leaving generous space is one way to stay safe.”

Every Sunday BC AdventureSmart has “Sledder Sunday” on its social media channels to share safety information including the following:

  • Snowmobiling is the single biggest activity in winter that results in Search and Rescue (SAR).
  • Snowmobiling accounts for just over 30 per cent of all BCs SAR in winter.
  • The overwhelming majority of snowmobile SAR are in the East Kootenays.
  • 72 per cent of the causations are injury, lost/disorientated, and exceeding ability.
  • 57 per cent of snowmobile search and rescue incidents occur after 3 p.m. and before 7 a.m.

Safety tips for enjoying the outdoors can be found at and information on backcountry courses can be found at

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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