High Avalanche Hazard and the Fine Art of a Courageous Retreat
Mountain Safety
January 12th, 2018

High Avalanche Hazard and the Fine Art of a Courageous Retreat

You’ve been planning this trip for weeks. The sleds are loaded, and hotels booked. Conditions are Golden, the Fernie Factor is about to kick in, and you’re Revelstoke’d to get out and ride some of that Sic(amous), deep, BC pow. One problem: High Avalanche Hazard. High, High, High. There’s a Special Public Avalanche Warning in effect. Or you suddenly find yourself 3 points up on the Avaluator, while two bowls deep in avalanche ranch.


High Avalanche Hazard and the Fine Art of a Courageous Retreat

In the words of Avalanche Technician, Johann Slam, “The mountains don’t care if it’s Saturday, Sunday, or your day off”. Responsibility for good decision-making does not end when you leave work and your loved ones at home. Fortunately, as sledders with an evolved pre-frontal cortex, we have excellent options for mounting a courageous retreat.


When there is an avalanche problem, terrain is the answer. Stick to slopes below 30 degrees, avoid terrain traps and play where there is no overhead risk. In heightened hazard, avalanches may exceed their traditional run length; keep well away.


High Avalanche Hazard


Back out Cautiously

You discussed a plan in your AM tailgate meeting for stepping back when conditions got funky right? Listen to your intuition and that Avaluator. Back out cautiously; one on a slope at a time, airbag handles out, remain in constant visual or voice communication, do not stop in exposed areas, be aware of other groups around you. Do not go right away and help someone who may be stuck; make a safe extraction plan that minimizes exposure.

Get Touristy

Every legendary sled town in Western Canada has an equally impressive tourist attraction. Get back to your roots and visit the Fernie Museum and Historic Walking Tour, the Revelstoke Railway Museum, Barkerville Museum in Wells, or Fort Steel near Cranbrook just to name a few. If you’re really on thin ice, every small town in North America has a rink…and most will rent you a set of skates for less than a large double-double.


High Avalanche Hazard


Catch up on Wrenching

Spend the day catching up on that wrenching you have been putting off. Visit a local sled shop and scout new product you can’t get a home. Remember, you’re saving some moola on fuel and lube – treat yourself to something nice!


High Avalanche Hazard


Buds ‘n’ Suds

Get that QT your squad was craving on a brewery tour or watching the game in one of BC’s best small-town pubs or eateries. The Fernie Brewing Company has an amazing new tasting room (proceeds in December went right back into the local sled community!), Whitetooth Brewing in Golden, Columbia Brewery in Creston, Mt Begbie Brewing Co in Revelstoke, or the Heid Out / Fischer Peak Brewing Company in Cranbrook.


High Avalanche Hazard


Brush up on Your Avalanche Skills

Consider hiring a certified guide with intimate local knowledge and professional decision-making skills. Get sleducated; most avalanche educators will accommodate training sessions on the fly for groups of 5 or more. Polish up that number one tool (your brain!) when the conditions prohibit riding outdoors.


High Avalanche Hazard






Nicole is the co-owner and resident powder princess of Elk Valley Snow Shepherds in Fernie, BC.