Skip to content

Educated backcountry skiers won't risk their lives, says SAR manager

A B.C. search and rescue manager cautions the public to think twice about heading out into the backcountry right now, following five avalanche-caused fatalities this month.

Following the recent avalanche fatalities in B.C., a search and rescue manager believes experienced backcountry enthusiasts will have got the message and think twice about putting themselves in dangerous situations.

Mark Jennings-Bates and his team at Kaslo Search and Rescue were first on the scene when tragedy struck and two off-duty Nelson police officers were caught in a Jan. 9 avalanche. Const. Wade Tittemore and Const. Mathieu Nolet were out backcountry skiing at the time. Tittemore died at the scene while Nolet was rescued but later succumbed to his injuries.

On Jan. 21, two snowmobilers had snow come down on them near Valemount. One person managed to ride away while the other was fully buried and died. Two more people were killed following a Jan. 23 avalanche in the Mount McCrae area near Revelstoke.

“What puts us [in the backcountry] is a drive from the public to go and ski in these beautiful areas,” says Jennings-Bates. "We need to understand the risk that we're taking.”

In regards to the Revelstoke fatalities, two U.S. businessmen who were on a guided heli-skiing tour, Jennings-Bates says they were with highly trained professionals.

"That's some of the best professional experience you can get," he says. "It's this real sincere unpredictability that we think we know what's going on." 

The search and rescue manager believes closures of dangerous and high-risk avalanche areas wouldn’t help prevent deaths. 

“If we wanted to be precautionary, nobody would be rock climbing, it would be ridiculous, we just wouldn't do it, it's a silly sport. We wouldn't jump off mountains or paraglide, because that would be crazy,” he explains.

There is always a risk in these sports, he adds, which is why people often do them. 

"I think we just need to be cautious as to how we approach it and make sure that as much as possible, the public awareness programs talk about getting the correct training,” he tells Glacier Media.

Jennings-Bates knows of people going into the backcountry who are having great days right now, but he and his team expect more incidents this year.

“If I were going into the backcountry for a skiing trip at the moment, I would have a highlighted concern about whether I did or didn't go,” he says, adding waiting it out isn't a bad idea.

"Am I going to do that now? Or should I just wait till it's a little bit safer?” he asks the public to consider.
Over the next few months, Jennings-Bates expects to see fewer backcountry skiers hit the slopes.

"But if they do, they'll find the right terrain and in the odd instance we'll be able to go out and help where we're able to,” he says. 

Anyone heading out should check the conditions on the Avalanche Canada website.