An example of avalanche probes in use. Photo taken from Pinterest.

An example of avalanche probes in use. Photo taken from Pinterest.

As avalanche danger grows, BC heli-skiers exercise caution

Company relies on guides’ decades of experience

A heli-ski operation working out of Nakusp has ‘drastically’ reduced the number of slopes it flies its guests to, as avalanche danger mounts in the area.

“At this point we’ve eliminated a lot of terrain, the potential ski runs that if conditions were good would be available,” says Rob Rohn, the director of mountain operations for CMH Heli-skiing. “We’re avoiding those now and just focusing on the runs that are mellower terrain, where we’re not worried about triggering avalanches.”

On Thursday Avalanche Canada issued a special public warning about back country travel, saying snowpack conditions were at a “critical point”. At least one person has died in an avalanche already this year, and there have been several near misses in the Kootenay back country.

https://www.avalanche.ca/news/special-public-avalanche-warning-for-much-of-bcs-interior

CMH flies about 50 guests daily to high mountain slopes for skiing. But with avalanche danger ratings high across the whole area, extra caution is needed, says Rohn.

“Every day our guides go through the list of runs and code them from ‘red’ to ‘green’,” he says. “We’re constantly reassessing, not only on a daily basis but an hourly one.

“Conditions are changing by the hour and you have to be on top of that, and adjusting your approach to the ski terrain accordingly.”

Rohn says CMH’s guides have up to 30 years’ experience in the mountains surrounding Nakusp, and know the slopes in the area intimately.

“They know every nook and cranny and knoll in the area,” says Rohn. “They’ve been monitoring the snow pack since beginning of December, seeing different weak layers form and buried by subsequent snowfalls.”

Rohn says they’re avoiding any potential problem areas, which is made easier using helicopters to drop groups off in safe areas, and pick them up again avoiding danger.

“It’s all about the choice of terrain,” says Rohn. “In times of high hazard, as we are seeing now, there is still terrain you can ski or travel through safely.

“A lot of areas you want to avoid, but a skilled back-country guide can lead people down safely.”

Still, with the danger so high, Rohn says they are being extra cautious.

“We’re sticking to really mellow terrain, where you are basically not going to get avalanches, and terrain we have skied continually all winter,” he says. “That’s not likely to create a failure plane in the snowpack.”

Guests are also given extensive pre-trip briefings on snow conditions, and training in using rescue equipment. Each skier is given a radio, transceiver, shovel, and probe to help should “things go sideways”, says Rohn.

With careful planning, experienced guides and conservative site choices, he says the operation is safe even in treacherous conditions. But Rohn wouldn’t recommend the back country for most people right now.

“The conditions are tricky out there,” he says. “For recreational skiers, it’s not a time to be getting too adventurous. If you are going to be travelling in the back country, you want to be exercising caution in your choice of terrain, and make sure you are well-equipped for whatever might happen.”

Just Posted

An ambulance waits to pick up an elderly couple injured in a vehicle collision in Christina Lake Monday, June 14. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Christina Lake collision under investigation, say Grand Forks RCMP

No one was seriously hurt in a two-car collision on Highway 3 Monday, June 14

The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League met for their AGM and announced a number of new initiatives, new awards and changes in their executive committee, as well as the starting date for the 2021-22 season. Paul Rodgers file.
KIJHL announces start dates for 2021-22 season

Season set to begin Oct. 1 with league still following all health guidelines

South Slocan’s Ti Loran is among the recipients of this year’s Neil Muth Memorial Scholarship. Photo: Submitted
Neil Muth Memorial Scholarships awarded to 4 students

Students in Creston, South Slocan and Revelstoke are sharing the honour

The Independent Investigations Office of BC is looking into a Castlegar incident. File photo
Police watchdog investigating Castlegar incident

IIO: Woman sustained a reportedly self-inflicted injury

West Kootenay Regional Airport. Photo: Betsy Kline
Central Mountain Air leaving Castlegar airport in July

The airline says market can’t handle two airlines

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

B.C. ambulance station in Revelstoke is expected to get a new system called the Scheduled On-Call (SOC) this fall. (Liam Harrap - Revelstoke Review)
B.C. ambulance changes could put Revelstoke residents at risk, warn local paramedics

Paramedics said to expect a substantial increase in ambulance response time starting this fall

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. watching U.K.’s COVID struggles but don’t think province will see similar pitfalls

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

Most Read