Officials Hope New Smartphone Bulletins Will Curb Avalanche Deaths


By Jamie Komarnicki

Calgary Herald


Calgary - Avalanche forecasters hope new smartphone-friendly bulletins-featuring less text and more graphics-will help young, tech-savvy backcountry adventurers make smarter decisions before hitting the slopes.


Parks Canada and the Canadian Avalanche Centre will begin using the new avalanche bulletin formatthis month.


"While moving away from a text-based report to a visual one is a bold step, the research tells us that it's the right thing to do," said Calgary Centre-North MP Michelle Rempel, who unveiled the redesigned bulletins in Calgary Wednesday on behalf of Environment Minister Peter Kent. "Today's tech-heavy world demands that brief and succinct information be available at the click of a mouse, via smartphone, 24 hours a day."


Last year, 11 people died in avalanches, according to Canadian Avalanche Centre data. The average number of deaths each year is 14.


Grant Statham, Parks Canada mountain risk specialist, said it's easy to get into trouble in the backcountry. The new avalanche bulletin provides easy to understand information before heading to the mountains, he said.


New avalanche bulletin


"The warning doesn't manage your risk for you. It's all about where you're standing and when you're standing there. It's about personal responsibility," he said.


"Our information is designed to provide the best information we can give them, but at the end of the day, they'll have to make their own choices."


Parks Canada is sharing the software with other Canadian agencies that produce public avalanche bulletins. That means avalanche forecasters could use a standardized, national bulletin system within the next couple years.


Rempel also announced $400,000 in Parks Canada funding for the avalanche centre over the next four years and $225,000 from Meteorological Service of Canada over the next three years.


The avalanche centre, based in Revelstoke, B.C., meanwhile, is breaking down its forecast regions into 13 areas. In the past, forecasters were responsible for seven "vast" regions, including one area the size of Switzerland, said executive director Ian Tomm.


"These smaller forecast regions will allow us to be even more accurate with our information and more precise with our travel advice-a clear benefit for all types of backcountry users," he said.


"Through improved ease of access to avalanche forecast and avalanche danger information, we're hoping people will have more and better information to make better decisions."


This winter is shaping up similar to last year, when La Nina weather brought massive amounts of snow, noted Tomm. The deep snowpack at a lower elevation saw large avalanches thundering onto highways, but fewer major backcountry slides.

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