British Columbia

Avalanche Canada gets $25M boost from Ottawa after years of financial struggle

The federal money for the B.C.-based service was announced during Finance Minister Bill Morneau's fall update.
B.C.-based Avalanche Canada issues daily forecasts for most of Western Canada, develops and coordinates public avalanche education, and delivers youth awareness training and seminars. (CBC)

Avalanche Canada, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving avalanche awareness and safety, has been promised $25 million in funding from the federal government, ending years of financial struggle. 

The federal money, a one-time endowment for 2018-19, was announced during Finance Minister Bill Morneau's fall update.

The B.C.-based organization issues daily forecasts for most of Western Canada, develops and coordinates public avalanche education, and delivers youth awareness training and seminars.

Mary Clayton with Avalanche Canada said the need for the services has grown exponentially as more and more Canadians venture into the backcountry. This has put a strain on the non-profit, which previously cobbled together a budget of $2 million. 

"Anybody who goes into the backcountry will tell you about the growth of use in our winter backcountry," she said.

"We reached a tipping point, and we were at a point where we were going to have to cut services unless we could do something about our resources, so this is going to make a big difference," she said.

Avalanche deaths down

Avalanche deaths are down from a high of 29 in 2003, to less than half that.

"We're a central point of contact for all things about avalanche safety, so we definitely save lives," said Clayton.

She said the organization, which has been around since 2004, plans to shore up current programs and fill gaps in avalanche forecasting and education.

"We're very grateful for this funding and the public recognition that avalanche safety is important and worthy of support," she said.

Justin Trudeau takes part in a demonstration avalanche search on Mount Seymour in 2000. Trudeau's brother Michel was killed in an avalanche while skiing in 1998. (Chuck Stoody/The Canadian Press)

In a statement, a press secretary for the prime minister's office said avalanche safety is an "important cause for the prime minister."

Justin Trudeau's brother, Michel, died in an avalanche in 1998 while skiing in B.C.'s Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park.

"Canada's beautiful parks and cold winters make it an ideal location to enjoy winter sports," read a statement from the PMO.

"To make the most of our winter seasons, Canadians should be provided with the awareness and training required to safely enjoy winter sports, including preventing avalanche-related fatalities and injuries."

Island impact

On Vancouver Island, the forecasts are handled by a separate organization called the Vancouver Island Avalanche Bulletin.

Jan Neuspiel, who has been involved with the bulletin for more than a decade, said the "grassroots organization on a shoestring budget" will, hopefully, also benefit from the one-time grant.

"There should be some of this coming to Vancouver Island's way," Neuspiel told Gregor Craigie, host of On The Island.

"Exactly what form it will take, who will deliver the forecasting and so on, that's all still to be worked out."

One possibility is bringing the two avalanche organizations together, he said.

"There are efficiencies to be gained by having the national avalanche organization take a bigger role in Vancouver Island and potentially even take over that bulletin."

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