Avalanche Canada: 75% of sled avalanche victims from Edmonton area

Avalanche Canada is trying to get the message out to sledders from the Edmonton area, noting that over the past five years, almost 75% of snowmobile-related avalanche victims last year were from that area.

File photo: Jeremy Hanke, owner and lead instructor at Soul Rides, is taking his snowmobile-based avalanche education program to Norway, Sweden and Japan next winter. Photo by Kelsey Elliott

Avalanche Canada is launching an spring awareness drive targeting snowmobilers, noting that March is deadliest month for avalanche fatalities. The organization is focusing its safety message on Alberta’s snowmobilers. In a Mar. 2 media release, they pointed out some sobering statistics:

  • Last year, 15 people died in avalanches; 12 were snowmobilers.
  • Over the past five years, 45 people were killed in avalanches; 24 of them while snowmobiling.
  • All of the snowmobiling accidents over the past five years occurred in BC; two-thirds of the victims were Alberta residents.
  • Of those Alberta residents, 73% were from communities within 150 km of Edmonton.
  • All these victims were male.

“Unlike other user groups, snowmobiling avalanche fatalities are showing a clear pattern,” explains Gilles Valade, Executive Director of Avalanche Canada. “When we see such a cluster in terms of place of residence, it raises a concern that our safety messages aren’t reaching the people who clearly need it most.”

Curtis Pawliuk is the General Manager of the Valemount and Area Recreation District, a popular snowmobiling destination for Alberta riders. “Far too often we see terrain choices that simply do not fit the conditions,” says Pawliuk. “These people are getting lucky. While the snowmobile community has come a long way, we need to start seeing greater buy-in and respect for the hazards of the backcountry.”

“An Avalanche Skills Training course is the first step for anyone recreating in the backcountry,” adds Valade. “More than 8000 people take this training each season. Unfortunately, less than 15% of these students are snowmobilers. Convincing more sledders to take this training where they will learn safe travel techniques for avalanche terrain and how to self-rescue is a significant goal for Avalanche Canada.”

Everyone in a backcountry party needs to have an avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel. For current avalanche conditions, check www.avalanche.ca. For information on training, click on the “Learn” tab.