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Avalanche season: Safety specialists remind backcountry users to take precautions

Experts are predicting there will be an increased attention to avalanche safety this season after last year proved to be especially dangerous.

'Bottom line we know more and more people are going out there'

Avalanches are frequent killers of backcountry skiers and snowmobilers, and even the most experienced mountain climbers can get caught up in them. (Reuters)

Avalanche season has already begun in the mountain ranges in Alberta and B.C. with several warnings about dangerous conditions.  

There is increased attention to avalanche safety this year after last winter proved to be especially deadly. There were 15 deaths in total, six in Alberta's Rockies and eight in B.C.'s Columbia Mountains.  

There were 25 per cent more deaths last season than the 10-year average, according to Avalanche Canada.

The non-profit organization received a funding boost of $150,000 from the Alberta government last fall. Mike Koppang, a public safety specialist with Kananaskis Country, said at the time the money would help educate backcountry users.

"Bottom line we know more and more people are going out there. It's a popular endeavour," he said.

Safety specialists admit there is no way to tell exactly many people are venturing into the backcountry. 

"Based on what I've seen, just where I work in Kananaskis Country, there used to be two or three vehicles at a trailhead, now we are seeing 10 or 15 cars at a trailhead," said Koppang

People are venturing into the backcountry to try more activities like skiing, snowmobiling, ice climbing and snowshoeing.

"Anything you can do out there, people are doing it. There is even snow biking these days."

Below is a look at the avalanche deaths in Canada last season.

Heli-skiing

Jannik Inselkammer, the head of a German brewery, was killed at Mica Dam near Revelstoke, B.C., while heli-skiing. Four skiers and one guide were waiting to be picked up by helicopter after skiing an area referred to as the Birthday Bowl.

When the avalanche occurred, the guide pushed two people to safety before he and another skier were caught in the slide. The guide and skier sustained minor injuries. The remaining skier, Inselkammer, was killed and was discovered approximately 800 metres down the slide path buried under four to five metres of snow and debris.

Jannik Inselkammer, the CEO of Augustiner Braeu, was killed in an avalanche near Revelstoke, B.C. (Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

Backcountry skiing

Four backcountry skiers were killed. One fatality took place on Helen Shoulder near Bow Summit in Alberta. The person triggered the slide while skiing the slope. 

A skier takes advantage of the backcountry near McGillivray Pass Lodge in the southern Chilcotin Mountains of British Columbia in 2012. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Snowboarding

A Lethbridge city councillor was killed while snowboarding in Waterton in the southwest corner of Alberta. He was with a friend when they triggered the slide.

This avalanche map outlines the path of destruction in Waterton last February. (CBC)

Snowmobiling

Five snowmobilers were killed last season. One incident involved two people on their sleds "cat and mouse" hill climbing near Blue River and the Red Sands Mountains in B.C. The higher snowmobile triggered the slide. Both sleds were caught in the avalanche. The person higher up the hill was partially buried. The second person was killed after the slide buried the person still on the snowmobile.

A different incident took place in Revelstoke, B.C., involving a man from Sylvan Lake, Alta. Chris McCoy was among a group of four snowmobilers on Boulder Mountain when the avalanche struck. He had apparently gotten off his snowmobile to help another rider who was stuck when the avalanche hit.

Kathy McCoy said her husband Chris was passionate about sledding. (Courtesy of Kathy McCoy)

Snowshoeing

Two people were killed while snowshoeing on Lake Agnes near Lake Louise, Alta. A group of five were traversing the slopes on the southeast end of the lake when the avalanche hit. Officials believe the snowshoers were unaware they were in an avalanche area location.

Officials say a group triggered an avalanche near Lake Agnes last March. (Google Maps)

Tobogganing

A father and a son from Montreal were killed while tobogganing. Officials say they likely did not know they were in an avalanche area.

An avalanche in Lake Louise, Alta., claimed a father and son with Montreal roots. Their bodies were found by a Parks Canada search and rescue team. (Radio-Canada)

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