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.