GADSAR goes over backcountry safety as winter season starts

Search and rescue takes a look at mountain safety and the precautions that need to be taken when venturing into the backcountry.

You wouldn’t know it by the melting snow around town, but the winter season is upon us and backcountry skiers, boarders and snowmobilers have begun to venture into the wilderness around Golden.

With that in mind, it’s timely to take a look at mountain safety and the precautions that need to be taken when venturing into the backcountry.

According to Jordan Peterson, president of Golden and District Search and Rescue, the most important step, not surprisingly, is to be prepared, and know what kind of terrain you’re getting into.

“Whether that’s with non-functioning equipment, not the proper equipment or limited knowledge of the area that they are travelling in. Generally those are the biggest mistakes,” Peterson said.

“We also see a lot of people get into terrain that’s well past their skill level.”

Proper education can go a long way towards keeping you safe as well, and Peterson recommends getting some avalanche training, at the very least, before setting out.

Equipment has evolved in recent years, but it’s important to know that help is not always as immediate as it might seem, according to GADSAR’s Shauna Speers.

“I think there’s this notion that help is coming and help is coming quickly,” Speers said. “We often get comments from people that say ‘Gosh, we pushed our spot beacon hours ago’.”

As Speers explains, there can be a delay between spot beacon activation and the time where the message actually is actually received by GADSAR.

“A notion that is probably out there is that a lot of backcountry rescue is professionals…I think a lot of people don’t realize that the people who are coming for you are volunteers.”

“If we’re to you in a couple hours, we’re doing really well.”

While much of last week’s rain in town was snow at alpine levels, the potential remains for it to cause issues throughout the season.

“Depending on weather factors in the future the rain could cause future persistent weak layers. It just really depends how future layers bond but there definitely could be cause for concern. It’s definitely a layer that people travelling in the backcountry should keep in the back of their mind, or even in the forefront of their mind,” Peterson said.

The best resource for checking on conditions remains the Canadian Avalanche Association’s website at avalanche.ca.