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October 22nd, 2020
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Avalanche Canada Provincial Gov’t Funding Uncertainty Puts Programs At Risk

With their season cut short last spring, sledders are looking forward to the upcoming riding season with more excitement than usual.

But as the first snowfalls hit many parts of the West and with sled season looming large on the horizon, not everyone is feeling so prepared for the winter to come. Just ask the team at Avalanche Canada.

While Avalanche Canada is busy getting ready for their winter operations, a significant source of funding for the organization is still up in the air. This funding uncertainty will potentially impact the service levels they will be able to provide for backcountry users if left unresolved.

 

UPDATE from Avalanche Canada: In late October we received notice that our grant application was successful and we are receiving $250,000 from BC Gaming. We need to apply for this grant annually and we are very happy to get this news. It was also recently confirmed that we will receive $150,000 from Emergency Management BC. We are still waiting for the province to follow through on the commitment made in May 2019 to provide $1 million in annual funding for AvCan.

Avalanche Canada Funding Uncertainty

There has been some public confusion about Avalanche Canada funding from government sources, particularly with funding here in British Columbia where Avalanche Canada is headquartered.

The uncertainty surrounds funding from the Province of British Columbia—not to be confused with the $25M dollar Federal endowment that was received last year, which is still in place. That money is held in a safe (read: low return) investment and is expected to be spread out over the next 15 years.

However, in order to receive that Federal funding, Avalanche Canada had to submit a ten-year business plan. Part of that business plan of course includes historical and future expected provincial funding in order to make the budget work over than planned 15-year span.

In the past, the Province of BC has contributed $150,000 per year from EMBC (Emergency Management British Columbia), as well as a $250,000 gaming grant that must be applied for every year. There are no multi-year commitments on funding in BC and zero of it is guaranteed.


Here’s why Avalanche Canada relies so heavily on funding from the provincial government.

Historically, more than 75% of avalanche fatalities over the last 20 years in Canada have occurred in BC. Avalanche Canada has fourteen forecast regions and they are all in BC, where 80% of their resources are spent. Needless to say, funding from the government here is important.

By comparison, the per capita funding for Avalanche Canada from the BC government is low. If you include the gaming grant, funding sits at 7.8 cents per person. If the Gaming grant is not received that figure drops to just 2.9 cents per person. In contrast, the Yukon government supplies $1.425 per person in funding to Avalanche Canada.

Avalanche Canada Forecast Regions
Avalanche Canada's forecast regions fall almost exclusively within the borders of British Columbia.

However, at the legislative assembly in May of 2019, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, the Honourable Mike Farnworth, committed to providing $1M of yearly funding for Avalanche Canada. Unfortunately, at this time that money has not made it into the provincial budget. This request for funding has taken a backseat as the COVID pandemic has monopolized the government’s focus and spending priorities since last spring.

Unfortunately now with an election underway, this funding request is at a virtual standstill, leaving Avalanche Canada with only the EMBC and gaming grants to support the operations.

At this time, EMBC has said that Avalanche Canada will “see something” in the next few weeks. While that sounds promising, the larger piece of the puzzle is the gaming grant, which won’t be announced this year until February—eight months into Avalanche Canada’s fiscal year, and halfway through their forecasting season.

Avalanche Canada Forecasting Difficulties Caused by Pandemic

To make operations more difficult for the Avalanche Canada team, the COVID pandemic has put the season of many backcountry ski and guiding operations into uncertainty for this winter as well. These groups are historically amongst the primary sources of information for the Avalanche Canada forecasters. The in-the-field intel they supply is a large piece of the puzzle used to create the Avalanche Canada public forecast bulletins. Without all that vital information coming in, the job of the forecasters will be much more difficult.

Avalanche Canada Forecast More Important Than Ever

After last season was cut short as the government and snowmobile clubs responded to the pandemic threat, sledders are understandably excited to get into the backcountry this winter.

This summer saw record numbers of backcountry enthusiasts heading into our forests and mountains as a way to deal with pandemic-related restrictions on activities.

If the dealer feedback on sled sales and levels of excitement is any indication, this winter will continue that trend, quite possibly leading to higher numbers of less-experienced mountain riders heading into the backcountry.

The ability of Avalanche Canada to be fully-operational will be more important than ever this winter.

How To Contribute To Avalanche Safety in Canada This Winter

What can we do to help?

The easiest and most immediate way to help Avalanche Canada fund its programs is to donate. While donations used to be one of Avalanche Canada’s main sources of support, these public donations have slowly dwindled over the years.

Donations can easily and securely be made on the Avalanche Canada website

The second way we can help is simply by reporting what we see out there this winter. Be prepared to fill out a Mountain Information Network (MIN) report every time you’ve been in the backcountry. MIN reports give the forecasters immediate, accurate and up-to-date information on snow conditions and weather, which are invaluable to making and providing accurate risk analysis. 

Filling out a MIN report is easy, and the report can be as simple or detailed as you like. It can be made at avalanche.ca, or using the Avalanche Canada app on your smartphone—available on the App Store or Google Play.

Avalanche Canada needs your help now, and we’ll need their services more this winter than ever.

 

– Marty