Backcountry skiing safety is import and unfortunately, people are killed enjoying backcountry skiing every year. In some cases, the fatalities may have been avoided. In other cases, people were prepared, skilled and smart yet they still got hurt. Backcountry skiing is inherently dangerous and you should be aware of that every time you head out. This website and the West Kootenay Touring Guide only scratch the surface of things you should know and bring when embarking on a tour. It cannot replace the experience, knowledge and skills that will allow you to enjoy touring—in maximum safety—for decades. We have assembled some of the basic backcountry skiing safety ideas and info here for you. To increase your backcountry skiing safety, consider hiring a local certified guide or take one of the many great Avalanche Safety Training courses though the Canadian Avalanche Centre
Members of local Search and Rescue (SAR) groups have been very helpful in developing and reviewing the West Kootenay Touring Guide (some of which appears here on this site) and we are thankful for their time and knowledge. Though mostly made up of volunteers, SAR members work and train hard, and have saved many lives in the backcountry over the years.
For everyone, promoting your own backcountry skiing safety (as well as that of others) takes time and energy. Make sure to keep an eye on yourself, and other “rescuers” in your group and trust in the Responsible Person (RP) mentioned in your preplan.
Some ideas Search and Rescue would like you to keep in mind:
• If anyone in a group feels unsafe, ill or too tired to continue, then the group should reassess.
• Rely on your Avalanche Safety training, and self rescue in avalanche scenarios.
• Following tracks doesn’t mean it’s safe.
• If someone is injured, trust your first aid training/kit.
• If you are lost, find a safe place and mark out your spot in the snow, dig in and stay put. It is harder for a rescue to find you if you’re moving around, and you’ll waste energy.
• Remember that, in general, accidents/fatalities happen when people don’t avoid slopes that are:
* Greater than 30 degrees
* Above terrain traps
* Obvious avalanche paths
* Wind loaded
Know who to call for help:
• Near the ski areas, Ski Patrol may be able to help 7:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
• Around Kootenay Pass, there should always be someone at the green Highways building at the top of the Salmo Creston Pass.
• If your group is lost, or has a non-medical emergency* (see below) then the RCMP will initiate Search and Rescue (SAR).
• If you have a medical emergency, BCAS (ambulance) will get someone to you or get you out with the help of the local SAR group.
• 911 may work, but when called from a satellite phone it will connect as an international number in Ottawa. This slows down the rescue while they contact the right people.
*A medical emergency is any injury or condition where the person’s life is in immediate danger (i.e. heart attack, unconscious, deadly bleeding). It is typically NOT a broken leg or arm.