With more people expected to enter the backcountry for the first time this season as COVID-19 encourages people to chase the outdoors, a new initiative called Backcountry Safe wants to start the conversation on backcountry safety.
The group, officially launched just over a week ago, is led by Dave Crompton, Mitch Putnam and Sheila Churchill, a trio of friends who survived an avalanche in 2016 on a backcountry trip just outside of Golden.
The avalanche resulted in several injuries and the death of their friend Doug Churchill. The group hopes to use their experience to affect change, to help others avoid a similar experience as they venture into the backcountry.
“We just thought it was timely, with ski season ramping up, we wanted to start a dialogue share our lessons,” said Putnam.
“We hope that it can help people make better decisions in the backcountry and maybe save some lives.”
The group has three key goals: to tell their story, share the lessons learned so that others may avoid tragedy and collaborate for change.
They are also looking to improve accountability in Canada’s alpine.
The group isn’t just looking to target outdoor enthusiasts – Putnam says that they were on a guided tour that fateful day in 2016. He says that over the years, they’ve worked with the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides to address concerns held with how guides self-regulate, or in their case, don’t self-regulate.
He says they’re looking increase transparency and accountability in mountain guiding to help make for a safer experience.
“I want to start by saying that we have a huge amount of respect for the guiding community and the Canadian guides, they’re some of the best,” said Putnam.
“But in our situation, we did have some questions and concerns from that day and were surprised that the professional association weren’t investigating or reviewing anything to do with our incident, which really opened our dialogue.”
Putnam explained the association was somewhat handcuffed by their insurance companies and the legal process, which evolved into a flawed accountability process over the years.
He says the association has since started publicly stating some of their shortcomings, working towards improving their internal workings and to improve safety.
Putnam says anyone looking to get into the backcountry this year should be taking courses and ensuring they have the appropriate gear with them and to practice with it before setting off on an outdoor adventure.
“We need to practice with transceivers and that really became apparent in our rescue. Be prepare on how to use your equipment,” he said.
Those who are interested in contributing to the dialogue or getting more information on the program can visit their website backcountrysafe.ca.
Backcountry Safe has also made available resources and information on staying safe in the backcountry, as well as lessons learned and shared from their own outdoors experiences.