An example of avalanche probes in use. Photo taken from Pinterest.

As avalanche danger grows, BC heli-skiers exercise caution

Company relies on guides’ decades of experience

A heli-ski operation working out of Nakusp has ‘drastically’ reduced the number of slopes it flies its guests to, as avalanche danger mounts in the area.

“At this point we’ve eliminated a lot of terrain, the potential ski runs that if conditions were good would be available,” says Rob Rohn, the director of mountain operations for CMH Heli-skiing. “We’re avoiding those now and just focusing on the runs that are mellower terrain, where we’re not worried about triggering avalanches.”

On Thursday Avalanche Canada issued a special public warning about back country travel, saying snowpack conditions were at a “critical point”. At least one person has died in an avalanche already this year, and there have been several near misses in the Kootenay back country.

https://www.avalanche.ca/news/special-public-avalanche-warning-for-much-of-bcs-interior

CMH flies about 50 guests daily to high mountain slopes for skiing. But with avalanche danger ratings high across the whole area, extra caution is needed, says Rohn.

“Every day our guides go through the list of runs and code them from ‘red’ to ‘green’,” he says. “We’re constantly reassessing, not only on a daily basis but an hourly one.

“Conditions are changing by the hour and you have to be on top of that, and adjusting your approach to the ski terrain accordingly.”

Rohn says CMH’s guides have up to 30 years’ experience in the mountains surrounding Nakusp, and know the slopes in the area intimately.

“They know every nook and cranny and knoll in the area,” says Rohn. “They’ve been monitoring the snow pack since beginning of December, seeing different weak layers form and buried by subsequent snowfalls.”

Rohn says they’re avoiding any potential problem areas, which is made easier using helicopters to drop groups off in safe areas, and pick them up again avoiding danger.

“It’s all about the choice of terrain,” says Rohn. “In times of high hazard, as we are seeing now, there is still terrain you can ski or travel through safely.

“A lot of areas you want to avoid, but a skilled back-country guide can lead people down safely.”

Still, with the danger so high, Rohn says they are being extra cautious.

“We’re sticking to really mellow terrain, where you are basically not going to get avalanches, and terrain we have skied continually all winter,” he says. “That’s not likely to create a failure plane in the snowpack.”

Guests are also given extensive pre-trip briefings on snow conditions, and training in using rescue equipment. Each skier is given a radio, transceiver, shovel, and probe to help should “things go sideways”, says Rohn.

With careful planning, experienced guides and conservative site choices, he says the operation is safe even in treacherous conditions. But Rohn wouldn’t recommend the back country for most people right now.

“The conditions are tricky out there,” he says. “For recreational skiers, it’s not a time to be getting too adventurous. If you are going to be travelling in the back country, you want to be exercising caution in your choice of terrain, and make sure you are well-equipped for whatever might happen.”

Just Posted

Bounty on West Kootenay northern pike

$10 a head reward for northern pike caught in Columbia, Kootenay and Pend d’ Oreille Rivers.

Nelson fire department douses blaze on CPR land

Nelson police are investigating

‘The Columbia River is on fire!’

Fishing columnist Kerry Reed on the great fishing in the Columbia River and Kootenay Lake

LETTERS: Proportional representation debate not balanced

From readers Marty Horswill and Steve Fawcett

France doubles up Croatia 4-2 to win World Cup

Played in Moscow Russia, latest Fifa World Cup marks the highest scoring final since 1966

REPLAY: B.C.’s best video this week

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

Non-union construction industry fears exclusion in B.C.

Premier John Horgan imposes ‘project labour agreements’ for public works

Trump, Putin sit down a bit late for closely watched summit

Trump and Putin arrived Monday at Helsinki’s presidential palace for a long-awaited summit.

In TV interview, Trump claims queen called Brexit ‘complex’

Asked the queen’s view on Brexit, Trump said: “She said it’s a very complex problem.”

Exotic corpse flower begins to emit its putrid scent at Vancouver conservatory

A unique and exotic tropical plant, acclaimed for its size and abhorred for its smell, is blooming at a Vancouver conservatory.

CREA reports June home sales down 10.7% from year ago, but up from May

The Canadian Real Estate Association says home sales in June were down 10.7 per cent compared with a year ago.

Tens of thousands give heroes’ welcome to Croatia team

Euphoria gave way to a mixture of disappointment and pride for Croatia fans after their national team lost to France in its first ever World Cup final.

Former NHL goalie Ray Emery drowns in Lake Ontario

Police say the 35-year-old’s death appears to be a ‘case of misadventure’

Air quality statement warns of smoky air for Kamloops area

Environment ministry says area on north side of Thompson River may be affected by wildfire smoke

Most Read