The Yukon is a pretty incredible place, but with so much wide, empty wilderness, few people and limited technology capacity in backcountry areas, it’s important to remember to prepare, plan and train before you venture out there.
The government coordinates a response to every call for help, but the ability to respond in the backcountry has many factors that could leave you potentially spending the night. Are you prepared? Yukon Government’s Emergency Measures Organization provides vital information on how you can prepare yourself for the Yukon’s backcountry.
How to Prepare
You should understand the risks you take as a backcountry user. File a trip plan with local authorities, have avalanche and wilderness first aid training and carry a two-way communication device, like a satellite phone.
The Canadian national program called AdventureSmart promotes outdoor safety and awareness outreach. They offer great resources on each of these preparation steps. Go to AdventureSmart.ca.
During an emergency, know how to self-rescue out of immediate danger, activate your emergency plan, and be prepared to be self-sufficient for six to 12 hours.
Trip Planning: Where are you going, who are you going with, how long are you going for? A trip plan is key information that you leave with a trusted person while you are away. If you don’t return or your communicate problems, your trusted person can be your ambassador to your rescue. The trip plan will explain your destination, travel route, equipment on hand and your expected return time. This gives authorities the critical information they need to send help.
Training: Obtain the knowledge and skills you need before heading out and also if your trip partners are also trained. Are you ski touring in the backcountry with someone who doesn’t know how to use a transceiver? Are you ok with that? Know and stay within your limits.
Taking the Essentials: Make sure to pack appropriately for the season and situation. There may still be snow on the ground, but ski touring without bear spray in spring into summer is not wise. It’s July in the Yukon, but yes you should take your windproof jacket. The seasons can change and it can snow. Be prepared that you may have to spend overnight in all backcountry trips.
What happens when the worst happens?
Yukon’s emergency responders are reached by calling 9-1-1 or 1-867-667-5555 on two-way communication devices such as cellular or satellite telephones. However, it is important to note that not all cell phones work outside of communities.
Don’t rely solely on personal locator beacons such as SPOT or InReach, as signals may be impeded or delayed by satellite coverage, topography and weather.
In addition, messages from these devices also do not go directly to the Yukon’s emergency services, they are answered and relayed by distance call centres, which could delay response.
If you are calling for yourself or a party member, provide the emergency call taker with details about your location, nature of the emergency, number of people, access to the site, weather conditions and how to contact you.
If someone is calling on your behalf, based on your trip plan or activation of your personal locator beacon, they should provide as much of that information as possible.
Who is coming to help?
Depending on the nature and location of the emergency in the Yukon, one or more agencies will be involved such as Special Operations Medical Extrication Team, Yukon Search and Rescue, Yukon Emergency Medical Services, Yukon Fire Marshal’s office and also the RCMP, Parks Yukon and Parks Canada may play a role.
However, you need to be aware of where you are going and what that can mean for an emergency response. Are you travelling through White Pass and Haines Pass? These sections, although frequented by Yukoners, are actually British Columbia.
How does it work if you’re a Yukoner who travels outside the Yukon or outside Canada?
The Yukon Emergency Measures Organization collaborates with all local communities, municipalities, First Nation governments, federal departments, industry and volunteers to support emergency management readiness and capacity.
If an emergency Outside exceeds their local resources, the Yukon Government may work with emergency management partners in British Columbia, Alberta, Northwest Territories and Alaska, at their request. In turn, the Yukon Government may also request assistance through mutual aid agreements with other jurisdications or Public Safety Canada.
For Yukoners in the Yukon there are no fees for a medical remote response and the Special Operations Medical Extrication Team is used for search and rescue operations. However, for out-of-territory residents or Yukoners retrieved from outside the Yukon’s borders, Medical Travel may recover ambulance costs from the individual.
Information on billing and travel insurance is available through Yukon’s Health and Social Services website www.hss.gov.yk.ca and use the search function for “Coverage.”
If you need air or ground ambulance services while you are outside of the territory, you will have to pay out of pocket. The Yukon Health Care Insurance Plan does not pay for that, or related costs such as hospital transfer, escorts, and return transportation charges.
Even if you are making a day trip to Skagway, Alaska or Atlin, B.C., make sure you buy travel health insurance to supplement Yukon Health Care Insurance Plan.
Similarly, visitors to the Yukon who require an ambulance or medevac service will be billed by Health and Social Services.
It is up to you to know the appropriate emergency number to call for the jurisdiction you are in.
The Emergency Measures Organization coordinates Emergency Preparedness Week activities in the Yukon, which takes place May 6 to 12.