Backcountry Safety Know Before You Go
Anyone visiting Fernie during the winter will be drawn to the amazing backcountry, whether on skis/snowboards, snowshoes or a snowmobile. While the experience can be one of the highlights of your visit, once you set foot outside controlled areas (essentially Fernie Alpine Resort), you expose yourself to substantial avalanche risk. Fernie’s legendary deep powder and steep mountains can be fatal if not approached with respect.
HOW TO STAY SAFE
It’s puking big fat white flakes and forecast to last all night - you want to head out for some fresh turns in the backcountry. Take some precautions before you go:
CHECK THE WEATHER REPORT
Maybe it’s going to warm up and howl with rain - not a good time to be in the backcountry.
CHECK THE AVALANCHE CANADA WEBSITE (AVALANCHE.CA)
Make sure you know the avalanche risk in your area. Moderate your terrain choice accordingly.
CHOOSE YOUR PARTNERS WELL
Not that drunk at the bar shouting about secret stashes. Make sure the people you head out with have similar objectives, risk appetite and fitness. Decide who’s in charge and what “go/no-go” criteria you have for the day.
Are you an expert? No, but really? Your friend just got buried. What are your next steps? Not sure? Sign up for one of many courses offered throughout the season – you can never know too much!
PRACTICE YOUR SKILLS
Fernie Search and Rescue and Fernie Alpine Resort have teamed up to install a state-of-the-art avalanche rescue training area. Head to the ski hill and practice your rescue skills at the Transceiver Training Area off the Timber Chair.
TELL SOMEONE WHERE YOU’RE GOING
Fernie Search and Rescue’s catchment area is some 4,000 square kilometers. If you’ve left a detailed itinerary with someone who knows when you were due back, then we have a good idea of where to start looking if you don’t come back.
TALK TO SOME EXPERTS
Check in with Ski Patrol at Fernie Alpine Resort for the most up-to-date snowpack and backcountry assessments. Many of the patrollers also volunteer for Fernie Search and Rescue.
HAVE AN EMERGENCY PRE-PLAN
The best plans in the world can go wrong. An injured partner, an avalanche, broken equipment. It’s going to happen at some point – what are you going to do about it? Who are you going to call? How are you going to call them? Does anyone know where you are and when to call if they don’t hear from you? How long can you survive while waiting for help? Do you have any first aid skills?
THINGS TO TAKE WITH YOU
You’ve done your pre-trip checks, left your itinerary with someone in town and you’re ready to go. Your pack weighs more than your house, and you’re going to be hauling it uphill all day. You pull everything out and try to work out what you can leave at home.
Here’s our Top 10 items that need to stay in that pack:
Have one and know how to use it (and wear it, don’t put it in your pack). Make sure your buddy knows how to use theirs, as well. If you get buried, he/she’s the one looking for you. After 15 minutes under the
snow, your chances of survival fall by about 90%, so a practice might be a good thing. Check those batteries as well.
Get a good quality shovel, preferably not plastic, and know how to use it in hard post-avi snow.
It’s #3 of the Big Three with the two above. Practice using it.
At least a minimum amount to cover minor injuries. Throw some means of lighting a fire in as well, you should be able to survive the night in any conditions with a big fire.
More people than you might think have spent an unexpected night out in winter around Fernie. That extra fleece could make the difference. Also keep a thermal wrap in your pack. They weigh nothing.
Everything looks the same in the snow, so it’s easy to get lost. GPS is great, but the cold kills the batteries, so take and know how to use a compass as well.
FOOD AND DRINK
Throw a bit extra in just in case the trip ends up longer than expected.
At least enough to make sure you can fix a binding if it breaks. Walking in waist-deep snow is no fun!
Cellphones work in plenty of places, and they are the communications equipment most people will have. Coverage is poor, however, as soon as you leave the valley.
A Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) can send a GPS location to emergency services when things go wrong and there is no cell coverage. The vast majority of SAR responses in the Fernie area involve a PLB of some type (SPOT, InReach, Zoleo). The devices and their batteries are also much more durable than a cell phone.
Above all, have fun, play safe and we’ll see you out there.
Fernie Search and Rescue is a wilderness emergency response group tasked by the provincial government to offer assistance to those who find themselves in difficulty in the backcountry. In the summer this includes bikers, hikers and hunters who may find themselves lost or injured away from urban areas. In the winter the focus moves to assisting snowmobilers, skiers and other winter recreationalists who get into trouble in Fernie’s vast backcountry areas.
Photo by Jon Canning