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Avalanches: Don't cross 'the stupid line'

The side of a mountain suddenly collapses, transforming a pristine white blanket into a raging wall of destruction and death. An avalanche used to be considered an unpredictable, and rarely survivable, force of nature. But with each tragedy experts have learned more about why avalanches happen, how their impact can be minimized and what people can do to survive their terrible force.

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For the first time since Michel Trudeau's death 14 months ago, his brother Justin and mother Margaret are publicly speaking at length about the tragedy. Justin tells reporters at Mount Seymour near Vancouver that taking risks is part of life. "If Michel had decided to stay home and play chess and Nintendo, he would have been fine -- but he chose to go out there and that's what made the difference."

Michel took all the necessary precautions. But, Margaret Trudeau adds, many others who venture into the backcountry do not. "[Risks are] what life is about but we're not going to cross the stupid line," to ski out of bounds or jump off a snow cornice and risk triggering an avalanche, she says. Still, many skiers and snowboarders here seem addicted to the danger and glamour of uncharted, untested snow. 
• Since this press conference, Justin Trudeau has been involved in many events highlighting ways to reduce the risks of backcountry travel. A teacher by profession, he became a founding director of the Canadian Avalanche Foundation, a registered charity that supports avalanche research, education and monitoring. He works with the Canadian Avalanche Association and the Canadian Ski Patrol System to develop and fund avalanche awareness programs.

• Justin and Margaret Trudeau have used their national fame to help raise money for initiatives including an avalanche bulletin published throughout the winter, and workshops for guides. Justin has made strong appeals to the provincial and federal governments to provide funding, with some success.

• On July 12, 2003, the old Slocan Chief Cabin, a century-old log house for travellers where Michel Trudeau spent his last night, was re-opened as the Kokanee Glacier Cabin. Justin Trudeau and his mother, who helped launch a fundraising campaign to renovate the sleeping quarters and add a wilderness education component, were on hand. On the wall is a sign in memory of 13 people who died in avalanches in Glacier National Park, including Michel Trudeau.

• As recently as 2002, the Canadian Avalanche Centre, based in Revelstoke, B.C., was in danger of severely curtailing its operations because of government cutbacks. Just over half the $80,000 used to produce avalanche bulletins annually came from the B.C. government but was erased in budget cuts.

• As a result of the Trudeaus' lobbying and public concern over the 29 avalanche deaths in the winter of 2002-2003, the B.C. government announced in October 2003 that it would give the centre $125,000 per year for three years.

• The Canadian Avalanche Association was created in 1981. It is made up of more than 600 professional avalanche workers involved in aspects of snow safety from research to avalanche control. In 1991, it opened the Canadian Avalanche Centre to provide information to the public. The Canadian Avalanche Foundation, established in 1999, is a registered charity that provides support to public avalanche information, education and research.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC News
Broadcast Date: Jan. 14, 2000
Guest(s): Margaret Trudeau, Justin Trudeau
Host: Ben Chin
Reporter: Terry Milewski
Duration: 2:42

Last updated: December 20, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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