Is it safer to be a backcountry skier now than it was 20 years ago? It’s a complicated question, but most snow-safety gurus believe the answer is yes. We spoke with eight leaders in avalanche mitigation and rescue about the progress made—and challenges that remain—since Backcountry premiered.
Ilya Storm, 50, is the forecast coordinator for Avalanche Canada. Storm lives in Revelstoke, B.C., just down the road from Rogers Pass. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation on 20 years of education, safety and snow science.In 1994, we were using a 1-800 number to get out the avalanche bulletins. They weren’t even called forecasts at the time, because it was more of a summary of current conditions. It was a nowcast, not a forecast—it was out of date the moment it was written, really. Now, we’re on the verge of discontinuing our 800 number, because the number of people who call into it is trivial.
We’re also changing the way we teach companion rescue. Think of somewhere like Rogers Pass, where there are hundreds of people in a few valleys on a busy day. Companion rescue was originally conceived as a group of two or four people in a valley, and when something bad happens, you need to be totally self-sufficient.
Now, either multiple groups are involved, or in the sled-skiing context, people who witness something from across the valley can travel five kilometers in a minute and a half. So rather than having two rescuers on scene, you can have 30. Yes, it still is a 15-minute medical emergency, but we’ve seen enough accidents that have gone awry because suddenly there are 30 people on site. We need to be able to go from an active rescuer to a commander and actually manage teams of people. We’re starting to teach that in our companion-rescue course this year for the first time.