When Whistler-based professional snowboarder Robin Van Gyn goes out into the backcountry for a magazine or video shoot, she realizes she's making backcountry snowboarding attractive for other adventure seekers.
"What we do is basically glorifying the backcountry, we make it look so good that people want to go there. We are encouraging people to go out and do what we do" she said.
That's why Van Gyn coaches other athletes on safety and has recently taken on the role as one of Avalanche Canada's first ambassadors, along with snowmobile rider Nadine Overwater.
"There comes a responsibility as an athlete or anybody involved to make sure that if we are putting this message out there ... we take some responsibility to make sure that people do it in a way that they're always going to come home."
Here are Van Gyn's tips for staying safe when hitting the slopes, especially in the backcountry:
1. Research before going
Van Gyn said those heading out to the mountains should be aware of all the factors before going — including the weather, snowpack, and current conditions.
"Avalanche.ca is a really user friendly site where we have weather, details on the snowpack, conditions, and ratings. Ratings are going to give you an idea of whether it's good, considerable, high, extreme, it gives people an idea what the risk is like, and it's really easy to read."
She said to also have a route planned out when going into the backcountry.
2. Pack the proper equipment
Van Gyn said those who are heading out to the backcountry should carry "a backpack with a beacon, a shovel and a probe."
"[A probe] is usually to find out where you're going to start digging to find your victim under the snow."
She also said to make sure to have enough food, and enough warm clothing.
"Wearing cotton layers may not serve you as well as wearing something that's going to be a bit more wicking like a polyester or a merino wool."
3. Don't ski alone.
"You want to be with other people," Van Gyn said.
"You crew is a big thing that you need to have. We don't really travel in the backcountry alone, because nobody can save you, and you can't have anybody else as a resource if you're alone."
4. Watch out for tree wells
"They can be really dangerous. You fall in there, your get stuck in there, with your face down down, it can be really, really difficult to get out. It's fairly common for people to suffocate, falling into a tree well head first, not being able to get out," Van Gyn said.
"The biggest thing to remember is if you're going to go out of bounds — or even in bounds — in the trees is to make sure you have a buddy. We make sure that we can hear each other when we're traveling through the trees."
5. Don't try to outrun an avalanche
Van Gyn said that in the event an avalanche starts, "the first thing to do is yell 'avalanche' so that people around you or people in the area are aware that there's activity, and that you may be caught in it.
"Ideally you want people to watch where you're going, and keep their eyes on you to … see where you may disappear," she said.
"We're not trying to outrun an avalanche, and we're not trying to get out of it at a 90-degree angle. You're going to look for a safe spot or a high point...and you're going to get there by travelling at a 45-degree angle downslope, so diagonally out of the avalanche."
In general, Van Gyn said it is important to be aware of what is happening at all times when out in the mountains.