Thursday, 24 November 2011 14:06

New mode of informing public about avalanche threat

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By Susan Quinlan
Waterton Lakes National Park
According to The Weather Network, winter has come early and quickly to higher elevations in western Canada, putting smiles on the faces of many skiers.

However, along with huge amounts of snow comes the threat of avalanche, prompting avalanche alert centres to come up with an even more immediate way of informing those in the backcountry of potential risks.

“(Parks Canada) has redesigned our interface with the public. We used to issue a bulletin with a lot of writing. Now there’s far less writing and more visuals, so it’s more suitable for twitter feeds. Hopefully, it’ll reach more people,” said Brent Kozachenko, public safety specialist at Waterton Lakes National Park.

In a recently-issued press release, Parks Canada stated together with the Canadian Avalanche Centre, Canada’s national public avalanche safety organization, they’ve developed bulletins accessible through social media and smartphone technology that are heavy on graphics and light on text.

Kozachenko said Parks’ staff has issued public avalanche bulletins out of Waterton for 30 years.

“We’re in the field every day looking at conditions. Snow’s a dynamic thing,” so conditions can change rapidly.

There are different kinds of users entering Waterton National Park, said Kozachenko, including those who will stay on the roads and others who cross-country ski on defined trails. Although trails were set up in areas with low risk of avalanche, major slides occur once in awhile.

There are those park visitors who want to enter steeper areas, where they find the best skiing. Kozachenko said it’s those areas that are of greatest concern.

“People really need to check the bulletins and develop their own skills about avalanche awareness.”

As well, if intending to travel in avalanche terrain, Kozachenko said it’s essential users pack the proper equipment and know how to use it.

“Getting prepared is the key. If it’s been awhile since you took a safety course, make sure you update your knowledge.”

As a recognized world leader in backcountry avalanche awareness and safety, Parks Canada operates a full-service avalanche risk control program in the mountain parks and spends approximately $1.7 million annually on avalanche-related activities in Western Canada, including highway avalanche control, a 24/7 capacity search and rescue program and regular avalanche bulletins in both official languages.

During avalanche season, Parks Canada produces daily public avalanche bulletins for Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay and Glacier National Parks, and twice weekly bulletins for Waterton Lakes National Park.

Avalanche bulletins are among the most visited pages on Parks Canada’s website ( In addition, the bulletins are shared with the Canadian Avalanche Centre (

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