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Canadian Avalanche Centre focusing on role of mentors

Marty Schaffer of Canadian Powder Guiding (Capow!) leads a group of Revelstoke youth through a beacon search exercise. - Alex Cooper/Revelstoke Times Review
Marty Schaffer of Canadian Powder Guiding (Capow!) leads a group of Revelstoke youth through a beacon search exercise.
— image credit: Alex Cooper/Revelstoke Times Review

On a beautiful day at Revelstoke Mountain Resort, a group of kids go scrambling across the clearing next to the top of the gondola, searching for a beacon.

All very young, they were taking part in an avalanche awareness days event at the resort being held by Capow! (Canadian Powder Guiding), a Revelstoke-based ski guiding outfit started by Marty Schaffer.

Elsewhere, ski pros Sean Cochrane and Greg Hill were out freeskiing with another group of kids, showing them around the mountain and giving them some tips.

The event fit into the Canadian Avalanche Centre’s theme for Avalanche Awareness Days this year, which was the importance of mentorship.

“We’re trying to get young people to get a mentor that’s got more experience,” Gilles Valade, the executive director of the CAC told me. “Tag along, ask questions. Basically try to make appropriate decisions by using somebody else’s experience as a sounding board.”

Valade said one problem in the backcountry is that people just starting out tend to go out on their own, or with people who aren’t very experienced themselves. The push is on to get people to ski or snowmobile with backcountry veterans, and to get those veterans to mentor newcomers to the sport.

“We want to get the youth involved. It’s always a little bit more difficult to convince an adult to get a mentor, but kids will look up to hotshot skiers or sledders that are out there,” he said. “They’re happy to talk to them, their stars. At the same time, most of these high profile people are very concerned with safety because that’s their careers.”

There’s a lot going on at the Canadian Avalanche Centre and its sister organization the the Canadian Avalanche Association these days.

The CAC is hosting an open house at the forecasters office above Royal LePage at Second and Mackenzie on Thursday, Jan. 23, from 5–7 p.m.

The open house is a chance for the public to meet the people who put out the daily avalanche bulletins. The forecasters work 10-hour shifts, seven days a week, sifting through data that comes from avalanche professionals working in the field. They then look at detailed weather forecasts to craft the next day’s avalanche bulletin.

“People don’t really know what goes into forecasts,” said Valade. “What we thought is have an open house where people can go in and talk to forecasters and ask questions and see a little bit on how a forecast is put together.”

The fact the forecasters have their own office outside the CAC’s building in Grizzly Plaza is a sign of the continuing growth of the organization. They have outgrown their existing office, said Valade, and are a looking for a new space so everyone can be housed together.

The CAC has also started a rebranding exercise to coincide with their 10th anniversary next winter. A request for proposal closed last week for submissions on a new name, logo and look for the CAC.

The aim of the rebranding is to help clarify the differences between the CAC and the CAA, which are often confused. The former is focused on public avalanche awareness, while the latter is an association of avalanche professionals.

The CAC is also planning on developing a new website.

A full-time fundraiser has been hired to raise money to launch new programs next winter. “We look at the 10 years and the successes we’ve had, and we’re planning for the next 10 years,” said Valade.

On the technology side, the CAC launched a smartphone app in the fall. Currently the app can be used to view the daily avalanche bulletin, but there is more planned. For phase two, which is schedule to launch in the coming weeks, the app will be expanded to allow users to submit observation from the field. Backcountry users will be able to upload photos and comments on their snowpack observations to the CAC.

“It’s crowd sourcing. We’re going to have lots of real-time information that will be made available,” said Valade. “It’s going to be helpful for regions where we don’t have a lot of data coming in from commercial operators or field teams.”

Phase three for the app will allow users to submit more detailed snowpack observations similar to what professionals do, said Valade.

The CAA, last week, launched an upgrade of their InfoEX software. Working with TECTERRA, a company that specializes in geomatics technology, the text-heavy InfoEX software has been changed to make it more visual and interactive, increasing the users’ ability to read the data and creating a simpler and more reliable decision-making process, the CAA said in a news release.

“InfoEx plays a significant role in public avalanche safety,” stated CAA executive director Joe Obad. “Critical technical data is exchanged within this professional network, allowing all subscribers to better manage the safety of their guests and members of the public. Through TECTERRA’s generosity and expertise, we have made vast improvements to this uniquely Canadian service.”

 

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