The winter wonderland around Barnes Lake is an attractive place for people seeking a backcountry experience, but anyone venturing out needs to take precautions. (Photo credit: Journal archives)

New Avy Savvy online tool helps novice winter backcountry users

Online tool is one way to help people prepare for safe backcountry adventures this winter

In recent months, more people than usual have been venturing into B.C.’s backcountry seeking a respite from the pandemic and a safe way to be out and about. However, that has resulted in an increase in search and rescue call-outs, as inexperienced explorers find themselves in distress and needing help.

Since April 2020, ground search and rescue crews in B.C. have carried out nearly 1,600 search and rescue missions; an increase of more than 300 call-outs compared with the same periods in 2018 and 2019.

With winter conditions now here, Avalanche Canada has unveiled a new tool aimed at novice users of the backcountry. “Avy Savvy” is an online education tool that provides a solid introduction to avalanche safety for those not used to snowy conditions.

“It’s vital for anyone venturing into the winter backcountry to have a full appreciation of the challenges involved,” explains Gilles Valade, Avalanche Canada’s executive director. “Travelling in avalanche terrain demands awareness and preparation. Avy Savvy provides a great first step in avalanche safety education.”

Along with avalanche safety fundamentals, Avy Savvy explains the many tools available to backcountry users on the Avalanche Canada website, such as the daily forecast and the online trip planner. Videos, images, animations, and interactive quizzes all help the learning process.

“We have had on online tutorial for many years, but with the pandemic increasing backcountry use, we recognized an opportunity to improve this program,” adds Valade. “We used a new platform and emphasized user engagement and interactivity. Our team has been working hard on this all summer and I’m very proud that we are able to provide yet another significant and science-based tool for winter backcountry users.”

To view the Avy Savvy tutorial, go to https://avysavvy.avalanche.ca/.

In addition to using Avy Savvy, there are other preparations people can make before they head out into B.C.’s own winter wonderland, to keep themselves safe and ease the pressure on search and rescue crews. People who are unprepared for the elements, or who have not familiarized themselves with their route, not only endanger themselves; they also put their rescuers in jeopardy.

To avoid having an adventure turn into an emergency, there are some simple and basic steps you can take. Make a plan that gives details of your destination, travel route, and expected return time, and leave it with someone who can call for help if something goes awry. Know the terrain and conditions of where you are heading, and check the weather forecast to help you with your planning. Respect signs saying that a certain area is out of bounds; they are there for a good reason.

Get the knowledge and skills you need before heading out, know your limits, and stay within them. Dress appropriately for the conditions and carry essential equipment, including seasonal and/or sport-specific gear, such as microspikes, an avalanche transceiver, a shovel, and a probe.

“We want people to be aware of the additional risk out there,” says Chris Kelly, president of the BC Search and Rescue Association. “The risk is not only being unprepared for the outdoors, but also exposing our professional volunteers to COVID-19 during call-outs.

“Our members risk life and limb to keep people safe, and that risk is compounded by the pandemic. We’re imploring everyone playing in the B.C. backcountry to play it safe: for their sake and the sake of our dedicated crews and their families.”

While it is important to plan ahead and prepare before heading into the backcountry, it is equally important to call for help when in need. If lost, stranded, or hurt in the outdoors, immediately alert the authorities.


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