Despite B.C. NDP government promises, Avalanche Canada left hanging by snap election call

Despite B.C. NDP government promise, Avalanche Canada, the Revelstoke-based national avalanche forecasting and safety organization is left out in the cold with no funding commitment as record backcountry snow touring season looms.

File photo: A huge avalanche triggered east of Revelstoke on the Trans-Canada Highway at the Lanark snowshed Feb. 9, 2018. Photo: Transportation BC.

Backcountry ski and snowboard gear is flying off shelves in B.C. as residents look forward to the fewer faces and open spaces that backcountry ski and splitboard touring offers. Around Revelstoke, many are talking about a potentially record year for non-mechanized backcountry touring.

File photo: Skiers and boarders atop Bruins Ridge in Glacier National Park following an avalanche on in 2019 that slid down the slope on the right. Clarification: Caption info in this photo was updated to correct unclear dating. Photo: colebullock7 via Avalanche Canada Mountain Information Network

Normally, this would be good news for the B.C. and Revelstoke backcountry tourism industries, but the COVID-19 pandemic which is causing the surge in interest, and the mid-pandemic snap election, are also causing concerns for the avalanche organization.

To make matters more challenging, many heli-skiing, backcountry lodges, and backcountry touring operations are facing an uncertain winter in the context of COVID-19, something that will impact Avalanche Canada’s ability to forecast, since the organization relies on industry partners who collect avalanche data in the field and contribute it to their advanced digital network.

Gilles Valade, Executive Director for Avalanche Canada, “It sounds like it’s going to be a record year,” Valade said. “We’re expecting it to be the busiest winter in the backcountry ever.”

Valade says the snap election call by the John Horgan government has put funding for the organization in question. Their existing grants are not guaranteed, and the grant-based funding means they receive funding news late into the season, potentially interrupting staffing levels.

A snowmobiler studies snow conditions in this Avalanche Canada file photo. Photo: Raven Eye Photography

Currently, the organization relies on two different provincial grants, a $150,000 grant from Emergency Management B.C. and an uncertain $250,000 annual grant from a gaming fund.

Avalanche Canada also receives federal support for its operations, but notes that about 75% of avalanche activity happens in B.C., and points to a much lower provincial commitment to funding in comparison to other jurisdictions, such as the Yukon.

In 2019, Avalanche Canada lobbied the provincial government for stable funding, and in May of 2019, and in an exchange in the legislature, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, committed to requesting $1 million in annual funding for Avalanche Canada.

You can read that exchange, including Farnsworth’s $1 million ask commitment, on Hansard here.

File photo: The 2017 Canuck Splitfest evening event in Revelstoke attracted about 400 people to raise funds for Avalanche Canada. Now in its eighth year, the event grows each year and promises to attract even more in 2018. Photo: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Mountaineer

At the time, Columbia River–Revelstoke MLA Doug Clovechok (BC Liberals) was pushing the government to make a commitment to the organization, and in the exchange he thanks Farnworth for making the commitment.

Valade said that commitment was re-upped in June of 2020, but has since trailed off in context of COVID-19 and the snap election.

Valade said he was trying to avoid the political election context, but did say he needed to acknowledge the incumbent Columbia River–Revelstoke MLA’s work championing Avalanche Canada in Victoria. “He’s been advocating for us more than anybody in power,” Valade said.

With the mid-pandemic snap election call, Valade said, the NDP government’s commitment to explore $1 million in permanent funding for the safety organization that is key to tourism operations across B.C. has not materialized.

In an email communication in The Aspect on Oct. 16, Avalanche Canada’s online mailing list, Avalanche Canada noted the lack of provincial funding front and centre.

In an Oct. 16 Avalanche Canada email list known as The Aspect, the organization criticizes the provincial government for lack of funding commitments. Image: Screenshot of The Aspect by Avalanche Canada

Following the email distributed by Avalanche Canada, Valade said a government spokesperson contacted him and said it could confirm $150,000 in funding from Emergency Management B.C., but noted the ongoing problem with uncertain funding for the organization.

Valade said he heard that funding commitments were in question due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This year, confirmed I have zero,” Valade said.

In addition, when Premier John Horgan visited Revelstoke to campaign on Oct. 3, Revelstoke Mountaineer put the question to John Horgan, but he didn’t seem to be briefed on the situation, but said there hadn’t been any cuts.

File photo: Revelstoke Mountain Resort ski patrol assemble the explosives they will use to perform avalanche control in North Bowl and Greeley Bowl. Ski resorts are one of many partners who contribute data to the Avalanche Canada forecasting network.  Photo by Matthew Timmins/Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine

“We are entering a winter here,” Valade said about the situation. Indeed, a blanket of fresh snow covered Revelstoke on Oct. 19.

So, what is the funding commitment by each of the three parties — BC Liberals, BC NDP, and BC Greens — who are running candidates in Columbia River–Revelstoke?

For this story, we are reaching out to all candidates on Oct. 19 via Twitter with a question: What is your party’s commitment to ongoing funding for Avalanche Canada? We will be posting updates to this story with their responses below, including embedding their Twitter responses.

Check back for updates to hear what local candidates and their parties are committing to on this important issue for a Revelstoke employer and key resource for the rural tourism industry in B.C.


BC Liberals candidate Doug Clovechok commits to $1 million in funding

BC Liberal candidate Doug Clovechok said the B.C. Liberals would “absolutely” commit to $1 million in provincial funding to Avalanche Canada. He noted his advocacy work with Avalanche Canada and said he’d also followed up in the summer.

“When we are elected as government we will be providing Avalanche Canada with $1 million in funding. I can make that commitment today,” Clovechok said.

BC Greens candidate Samson Boyer says funding can be found in climate resilience fund

In a statement, BC Green Party candidate Samson Boyer said funding can be found in a proposed green fund, but didn’t provide funding specifics. Here is a statement emailed by Boyer:

“Climate Change is increasing the frequency and risk of avalanches here in the Kootenays: More moisture in a warmer atmosphere can fuel more extreme snowstorms, which means bigger avalanches and warmer temperatures can make snow layers collapse and slide. The Green Party recognizes that we need to take action and  increase funding for all efforts combating natural disasters, including avalanches. Our plan for climate resilience will provide $100 million over 4 years to fund climate adaptation initiatives. Personally I think that we need to make sure that Avalanche Canada has the resources it needs to keep our communities safe as we face the brunt of Climate Change.”

BC NDP candidate commits to some funding, but says details to come after the election

Nicole Cherlet, BC NDP candidate for Columbia River–Revelstoke, said the BC NDP is “quite happy to fund Avalanche Canada,” and that finding is “a go and I will happily make sure that happens as soon as possible.”

However, when questioned about the ask for $1 million in ongoing funding referenced in the 2019 Hansard record, Cherlet said she’d need to consult with the ministry on details.

A statement from the BC NDP forwarded by Cherlet said:

“We’ve provided Avalanche Canada in recent years, and will commit to ongoing funding. We look forward to meeting with Avalanche Canada following the election to discuss their needs.” The statement also referenced federal funding for Avalanche Canada.


In Columbia River–Revelstoke, where a significant portion of Avalanche Canada’s operations are based, BC Liberals candidate Doug Clovechok, who has lobbied government to secure funding for Avalanche Canada since 2019, has committed to $1 million in funding for Avalanche Canada, an amount the BC NDP government first suggested on the record in the Legislature in 2019. The BC NDP and BC Greens have committed to funding Avalanche Canada, but have not firmly committed to an amount, but said they’d work on delivering funding.

Aaron Orlando is a Revelstoke-based journalist who serves as creative director of and Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine. He's been on the news beat in Revelstoke for the past 14 years, serving in senior editorial roles. If you have or call/text him at 250-814-8710.