Live Longer: Avalanche Awareness Summit Planned for Whistler

If there’s one thing that hundreds of tonnes of snow sliding down a mountainside does not forgive, it’s ignorance. And when it comes to avalanches, knowledge—that continuous quest for academic enlightenment—truly is power. Every year new technology comes to market for both the avalanche industry and the recreational backcountry community, time-tested methods of rescue are refined and re-refined. Just like a well-sharpened ski edge, avalanche education requires regular honing to remain effective in the field.


Wango practicing a HETS (Human External Transport System). Photo: Jia Condon

by Vince Shuley

That’s one reason career ski patroller and avalanche forecaster Wayne Flann wants to see an annual avalanche summit in Whistler. “The backcountry use in this [Whistler] area is increasing so much it will stretch Search and Rescue resources even more than they already are,” says Flann, an active Whistler Search and Rescue volunteer himself. “The more education we can get out there, hopefully the less calls Search and Rescue will have to respond to as people learn to play safer.”

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Rusty Ockenden. Photo: Scott Serfas

Flann’s vision is a multi-day avalanche awareness conference that gathers backcountry recreationists, professional avalanche technicians, gear manufacturers, outfitters and local outdoor businesses for a sort of educational trade show. He’s given it a name, too; Avalanche Awareness Whistler (or A²W for short).

“The number of people taking avalanche courses has skyrocketed in the last couple of years, it’s amazing,” says Flann. “There’s definitely more knowledge, but sometimes a little bit of knowledge can be scary, especially without the experience. I think people need more mentorship.”

That mentorship gap in the current avalanche education curriculum is what A²W hopes to bridge. The event will host a range of panel discussions and talks with experts from across the industry, from career avalanche technicians to professional skiers and snowmobilers. Topics will range from cultural discussions, such as the influence of social media on avalanche safety, to more investigative subjects such as how the use of airbags affects decision-making in the backcountry.

The professional avalanche community has long held a similar event for forecasters, guides and safety managers in the form of the International Snow Science Workshop (ISSW), which Whistler hosted in 1988 and 2008. While the ISSW is the ideal platform for presenting emerging technology and the latest methods of snow science analysis, it’s events like A²W that distill the most relevant and practical information for the recreational community. Attending avalanche professionals can also earn points for continuing professional development, a requirement for their high-level avalanche certifications.

While A²W has had no shortage of enthusiasm from the snow safety industry including Avalanche Canada, Flann is still shopping around for a title sponsor for the event. In order to proceed with A²W as planned, it will need sponsorship to keep ticket prices accessible for the backcountry community.

The first A²W conference is scheduled for fall 2018. Potential sponsors and partners can reach Flann on the event website