I posted  an epic picture of my family completing a hike on Twitter with the caption “Shorts in the snow… That is Alberta Spring Hiking”. I then tagged the Banff National Park @banffNP  in the photo.  Following posting the photo a series of feelings of embarrassment, stupidity and worry crept up after  hearing their response to the photo.  This is my response and I felt I needed to make sure that all of you heard it before you adventure in the mountains with your kids.

 

“Not to alarm you but this is the bottom of an avalanche slide path. Do we need signage at this location?” @BanffNP

 

 

My heart sunk. I had just been talking about staying away from avalanche  zones in the off season with my husband. We knew that it was avalanche season and that places that are typically fine can actually be danger zones. So how   had we ended up taking our kids on a hike that could have had an avalanche? Well I am going to share with you why we did that hike and how to avoid making the same mistake that we did.

Following   a Guidebook

We wanted to do a harder hike than usual. So I pulled out a guidebook and looked at the  shoulder season  hikes.  I had assumed that since the guidebook said it was good for hiking in the shoulder  season (fall and spring) that we would not have to worry about the risk of an avalanche.

Don’t Trust Other Hikers

There were lots of other hikers hiking the trail. I can pretty much assume that the people we saw on the hike were not avalanche prepared.  Do not take it as a sign that the hike is safe just because you see other hikers on the trail.

Failing to Check Hike Status

I took my two little girls on a hike in the mountains earlier in the week. I checked the trail report online and made sure that it was clear. We failed to do that for this hike and to be honest, we don’t always check the online trail report. This is such an easy check to do before heading on the hike and we are so lucky that these resources are available to us. Check out  Banff trail reports here and Alberta Parks trail reports here. 

Check the Signage

One of the comments that Banff National Park asked was if there was any avalanche warning signs.  While we did not notice any signage we also did not go and check to see if there was any signage.  We still have no idea if there was avalanche warning signs. We just started the hike along with many other hikers who were unaware.

Ask Park Staff

We passed park staff as we were entering the trail head and they did not say anything to us about the safety of the hike. It is always good to ask park staff if they are at the trail head if the hike is safe. They may not stop to warn your about the conditions of the hike for a number of reasons.  They may just be maintenance staff for the facilities and not actually know the conditions of the trails. They also may assume that you are avalanche prepared if you are heading on the hike.

Do your homework

Do your own homework and take some time to learn about avalanche safety.  I was a little disappointed that the signage was minimal and the park staff did not say anything to us about venturing on that hike. However, it is just a reminder that you and only you are in charge of your family’s safety. Take a look at this   free avalanche primer on the Avalanche Canada Website here. It is always good to take a course but if all you can do is look over these tips then that is a great start. The website provides  the basics that you should know before heading out.

 

For more tips  and a primer to avalanche training check out Avalanche Canada. 

 

 

 

By Annika Mang

 

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4 thoughts on “Avalanche Safety: Avoid these 6 Mistakes”

  1. Really, all this can be summed up with one line you were getting at near the end of a whole of finger pointing. You and only you are in charge of your safety. Your feet took you to this spot, not the guidebook, other hikers, lack of signs or park staff.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the BanffNP rep that responded to you on twitter has no avalanche training. There is not a whole lot of training required to recognize that there is a slope behind you with no trees funneling accumulated snow. A lot of avalanche terrain awareness is common sense. Also, being at the bottom of an avalanche slide path doesn’t mean that you are in imminent danger. Realizing, recognizing and mitigating that danger is where avalanche training comes into play.

    I’m surprised that you don’t indicate anywhere that this is C-Level Cirque. It’s not exactly a hard or epic trail, but of course with kids it’s a different story. It’s described on the Parks Canada website and they do warn of avalanche dangers on the upper section during shoulder season. I would be surprised if there isn’t some sort avalanche warning in the guidebook you are referring to. Is there one in the preface? Unfortunately most people don’t read the preface.

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. I love that you hit home that it is important to be in charge of your own safety and give some great examples of how people can be more avalanche safety aware.
      And to answer your question the guidebook does not have a preface stating that there could be some sort of avalanche warning on the hike. I just double checked 😉

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