Better monitoring of North Rockies on Avalanche Canada radar

Avalanche Canada hopes to parlay a portion of a recently-announced $25-million endowment from the federal government into improved monitoring in the North Rockies.

Top priority will be given to shoring up and stabilizing the organization's current programs, executive director Gilles Valade said in an interview, but the region tops the list of areas Avalanche Canada has eyed for expansion.

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"We know that one is in need of our services," he said. "It's been underserved and there's been incidents and fatalities, so it is a proven need, more than just usage. The only reason we haven't done as much as we'd like to so far is just because we haven't had the capacity in terms of financial resources."

The goal will be to deploy a full-time field team that would provide a regular regional forecast, similar to what is in place for the South Rockies.

As it stands, Avalanche Canada relies largely on backcountry enthusiasts and the handful of commercial operators in the region to collect data for a weekly conditions report. It has also established weather stations and field teams visit the area four or five times per winter.

"We've done as much as we can with what we have," Valade said.

Plenty of details still need to be worked out before anything gets going.

"We're not sure if it's supposed to last forever or if it's 10-year renewal or a five-year which will dictate a lot of what we can do with the money obviously," Valade said.

There is also a chance a portion of the money will only be released if the provincial government provides matching funds, he added. Valade said he is seeking a meeting with B.C.'s Public Safety Minister to that end and noted 80 per cent of avalanche fatalities have occurred in this province.

"Hopefully the province will step in because certainly they need to up their funding level and also its predictability and sustainability because it's mostly yearly grants and asks right now," he said.

"In North Rockies the last thing we want to do is one year we get something and then we can't do it in a sustained way which is worse than not starting anything, if you ask me."

The endowment was announced as part of the federal Liberals' economic update but the earliest Valade expects to see any of the money is at the end of the government's 2018-19 fiscal year on March 31.

There have been no avalanche deaths in the region in the last two years.

But in January 2016, 41-year-old Angelo Kenneth Carpino of Prince George was killed in an avalanche while snowmobiling in the Evanoff Provincial Park, about 120 km east of the city.

Less than a week later, five snowmobilers from Alberta were killed in an avalanche in the Renshaw area near McBride. And in December 2016, an Edmonton man was killed while snowmobiling in the Morning Glory Bowl in the Clemina Creek snowmobiling area southeast of Valemount.

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