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Avalanche Safety

January, 2017

There are a number of ski hills in Edmonton, plus wonderful trails in the St. Albert area that are a joy to explore on cross-country skis, snowshoes or even snowmobiles. But nothing really compares to the Rocky Mountain parks. For winter adventurers, there is no better feeling than getting up early and heading out to the mountains with your snow-gear in tow. But whether you’re skiing, hiking, snowshoeing or snowmobiling, you should always remember that the mountains present a unique set of dangers in the wintertime: avalanches. Though it may seem unlikely to happen to you, avalanches kill between 10 and 15 Canadians every winter. Even if you’ve been skiing since you learned how to walk, or you’re used to zipping around the prairies on a snowmobile, you should still take the time to educate yourself on avalanche safety before you head into the back-country of our national parks.

If your current safety plan is sketchy, you might want to check out St. Albert’s Riverside Honda on January 29th when they host their own avalanche safety course. While their focus is on snowmobile safety, their lessons will be a great introduction for anyone who is planning to head “off-trail” this winter. Everyone who heads to the mountains should know how to recognise and avoid avalanche zones, as well as what to do when you find yourself caught up in one. It’s equally important to equip yourself with the right gear. Avalanche safety technology has come a long way since those days of the St. Bernard rescue dogs carrying casks of alcohol around their necks. Here are some life-saving equipment that you should have when you head into the back-country this winter.


If you find yourself lost under an enormous pile of snow and you’re not even sure which way is up, sometimes the best course of action is simply to wait for rescue. Your beacon will help speed up that process by emitting a signal that can easily be picked up by your companions and rescue workers alike. Beacons will typically cost you anywhere from $300 to $600.

Airbag Pack

These backpacks come equipped with bladders that inflate with the simple pull of a cord. The inflated bag will protect your head and neck from debris as you are swept down the mountain, but more importantly, it will keep you near the surface of the slide instead of sinking to the bottom. These packs can be a bit pricey, ranging from $500 to $1500, but they are one of the best pieces of equipment to have in an avalanche situation.


While skiers usually have poles to help them poke around the debris to find their companions, snowshoers and snowmobilers should make it a habit of carrying collapsible probes with them on their trips. These probes speed up the rescue process by allowing you to quickly figure out if something or someone might be trapped underneath the surface of the snow. A sturdy stick will do the trick, tool, but the high-end collapsible models will run you anywhere from $50 to $100.

Avalanche Shovels

Once you’ve found your downed companions with their beacons and your probe, the only thing left to do is to dig them out. Avalanche shovels are lightweight, sturdy and will easily fit in your backpack. These shovels cost anywhere between $50 and $100.

For more information on avalanche safety or to sign up for the training course, you can visit Riverside Honda’s website here.

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