Skiers dies in Yukon Avalanche
Calls for an avalanche forecasting system in the Yukon have been re-ignited this week by the death of a backcountry skier in Kluane National Park and Reserve.
Whitehorse resident Honza Galac, 29, was skiing with three friends near Observation Mountain on Sunday when an avalanche swept Galac away. He was dead by the time his friends located him and dug him out of the snow.
When it comes to avalanche conditions in the Yukon, the Canadian Avalanche Centre in Revelstoke, B.C., currently has to rely on volunteers to provide it with information.
Equipment is needed to monitor snow depths and changing conditions, but the centre doesn't have that equipment in many areas, said John Kelly, the avalanche centre's operations manager.
"That means that some places are not suitable for an ongoing forecast because there's just not enough data coming out of them," Kelly told CBC News.
While avalanche forecasts and warnings do not always stop people from venturing into the backcountry, Kelly said they have reduced the number of injuries and deaths.'Baby steps'
One of the Yukon volunteers, Whitehorse avalanche expert Kirstie Simpson, has been working on establishing an avalanche forecasting service in the territory.
"It's been quite incremental, you know," Simpson said. "We've been just sort of taking some little baby steps over the last few years."
Among those baby steps are a recent avalanche warning in the Tombstone Mountain area, as well as avalanche safety workshops.
Kelly said a recent study from Calgary shows that backcountry skiing is safer than driving on a Canadian highway, The most effective way to prepare skiers, he added, is to combine more avalanche forecasts with safety education programs.
"Public avalanche safety information over the years has resulted in declining trends in accident rates and fatality statistics and certainly we believe strongly that this is the way to go," Kelly said.
"The onus is always on the user to adopt those things, but public avalanche information helps."Special packs could save lives: guide
Meanwhile, an Austrian backcountry guide has been promoting a special type of equipment, an ABS Avalanche Airbag, to help save lives in the event of an avalanche.
Leo Steiner, who runs Atlin Heli-Ski in the Yukon and northern B.C., said he equips his clients with the special packs, which are essentially backpacks with airbags inside.
If a skier gets caught in an avalanche, they would pull a cord on the backpack and it would fill with gas and air, increasing the amount of space around the skier.
Steiner said bigger objects, like snowmobiles, usually stay on top of the snow after an avalanche.
"The big heavy snowmobile is very often on top of the debris and the rider is buried," he said. "So in this case, the bigger the object is, the better are the chances that the object comes to the top."
Steiner said the ABS packs are used a lot in Europe, and are becoming more popular in North America. A Swiss study showed the bags saved about 200 lives since they came on the market over 20 years ago, he added.
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