Yukoners in backcountry 'missing one part of the safety component'

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Yukoners in backcountry 'missing one part of the safety component'

After years of relying on professionals to gather information on snow conditions in popular recreational areas, Yukoners heading out into the backcountry this spring may have to rely more on their own wits.

The Yukon Avalanche Association's funding was reduced this year and it has shifted its role to training dozens of recreational users in filing high-value field reports rather sending out its own teams.

The information collected by those users is the basis for a weekly summary of snow conditions in the White Pass area.

Claude Vallier, an avid outdoorsman who runs the Yukon Backcountry Skiing website, said that's meant there's not as much information as in the past.

"You know, the previous years we had a team out there, you know, every week so we could rely on really professional information. It was great in terms of safety. Now we don't have it, and we are kind of missing it," said Vallier.

"Now, we are missing one part of the safety component, you know, nobody's available for when you are preparing to do a trip for sledders or skiers or snowshoers or whatever," he said.

The information was valuable, said Mark Daniels, the president of the Klondike Snowmobiling Association.

He said sledders will instead have to turn to other available online resources, word of mouth and their own common sense when assessing avalanche danger.

"Your most important equipment is what's between your ears, so first of all, get trained. Secondly, get the equipment and know how to use it. And third, use your judgement when you get there," said Daniels.

"The best ride is the ride you come home from," he said.

While the traditional avalanche forecast for Yukon is no longer available on the B.C.-based Avalanche Canada website, there is still information there, said Mary Clayton, the organization's communications director.

Clayton said people are using the mobile app that lets them describe snow conditions and send photos which are used to post a summary on the site.

The system is being tested this year in Yukon and four regions in B.C., she said.

"I'd say the Yukon has been the most successful and that's the result of all the mountain information posts that are coming in," said Clayton.

Avalanche Yukon said in release last December that more than 35 members of the public had been trained "on best practices for generating high value and insightful" reports, with more training to follow.

The summary prepared by Avalanche Canada for the week of March 6 said there is a persistent avalanche problem in the White Pass area, and signs of instability.

That is similar to Vallier's observations over the past ten days.