Rossland Search And Resuce hosts Avalanche Awareness Day

Rossland Search and Rescue is holding an Avalance Awareness Day on Saturday, January 14, 2012.

Winter sent another grim reminder of the danger in the West Kootenay backcountry last week when an American skier was killed in an avalanche near Golden.

Adam Lawton, 30, from Salt Lake City, Utah has been identified Monday as the person killed when an avalanche came down Friday in Molars Bowl on a group of backcountry skiers.

Lawton was dug out of the snow, given CPR, and taken off the mountain by helicopter, but he later died in hospital.

He’s the second skier to die in the West Kootenay in less than two weeks, and the fourth avalanche victim since the season began.

The slide came after the Canadian Avalanche Centre warned of warm temperatures creating a heightened avalanche risk throughout the province.

People need to be able to read the snow and what danger lurks in the backcountry, said Ross Breakwell, training coordinator for Rossland and District Search and Rescue (RSAR).

A cold weather stretch in December coupled with very little snowfall has metamorphosized the current snow pack throughout the West Kootenay, with about eight inches of hoar frost crystals building up on top of the snow pack.

Since then snow has fallen on top of the unstable layers, said Breakwell.

“So we have a real sliding layer that will probably persist for the entire winter,” he said. “Even though we don’t seem to have much snow conditions seem to be pretty bad this year.”

On Saturday RSAR will be offering a free Avalanche Awareness Day — from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. — outside the base lodge at Red Mountain Resort.

The day offers hands-on avalanche safety gear clinics, a poster competition for kids, demonstrations, races and prizes.

It’s not a full on avalanche course, said Breakwell, but the hope is people will move on from there and take an actual avalanche course.

So far this winter RSAR has responded to four calls, but people got themselves out of the snow before the search team could arrive on the scene. Breakwell said most areas of the West Kootenay region above the alpine are dangerous right now, and people need to be aware of where they are skiing.

“That’s really the key for keeping yourself out of an avalanche, just avoiding it,” he said. “Many experienced backcountry skiers have never had a close call with an avalanche and that is because they stay out of it. You just stay out of the terrain that is prone to avalanche. There are still lots of places left to go.”

The Saturday course is open to anyone, with 15 experienced RSAR volunteers on hand to help. People with previous avalanche training are invited as the course provides them with an opportunity to review and actually practice using their own gear.

Clinics on building emergency snow shelters and digging snow pits will be offered, and there will be team competitions and giveaways in the afternoon.

All clinics will be within walking distance of the base lodge.

People can sign up for the day at the RSAR trailer between 8:45 and 9:15 a.m. in order to attend the first clinics that begin at 9:20 a.m. Registration will continue throughout the day for later sessions.

People must be fully registered before attending any clinic, and may come for the entire day, or just part of the day.

Those interested in taking the course should dress for the weather and wear warm boots. If access to the chair is required, lift tickets must be purchased.

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