For many Yukoners, enjoying the backcountry is an integral part of their lifestyle whether they love to ski, snow machine, snowshoe or run sled dogs. They rely on their own experiences and common sense to keep themselves safe. Some have tuned into avalanche forecasts that have been available since 2011 on the Canadian Avalanche website and the Yukon Avalanche Association website. But funding for this service has changed and affected availability.
To assist in providing more information to outdoor enthusiasts, the Yukon Avalanche Association, partnering with Avalanche Canada, has initiated a data collection service that is crowd-sourced. In other words, anyone who spends time in the great outdoors can assist by submitting their avalanche observations online to a platform called the Mountain Information Network (MIN). All that’s required is about five minutes at the end of the day logged on to Avalanche Canada’s website –– and this can be done on a smartphone.
“It only takes a few minutes to sit down with a warm beverage and think about what you saw during your day,” says Ben Horowitz, communications director for Yukon Avalanche Association. “You take note of the fragility and weakness of the conditions that you encountered during the day.”
Jasmin Dobson, president of the Yukon Avalanche Association explains how to do it.
“Once logged on to the website, there is a checklist where Avalanche Canada leads you through a series of questions based on weather conditions, avalanche and snowpack conditions,” Dobson says. “As well, you can upload photos of the area and add more comments.”
The concept that information not shared is useless information is true when it comes to avalanche safety.
With the Mountain Information Network, Avalanche Canada can generate a Hot Zone Report (HZR) from their Revelstoke, B.C. office. These reports combine snowpack and weather data from the Canadian Avalanche Association office with observations submitted by members of the public though the Mountain Information Network.
Hot Zone Reports are not avalanche warnings and do not contain danger ratings, but they will promote backcountry travellers’ awareness of conditions. The introduction of the Hot Zone Reports this year is a transition from the twice weekly avalanche forecasts. The Hot Zone Reports will be issued a minimum of once each week, and more if conditions warrant. In the Yukon, the Mountain Information Network reports generated by the public will be augmented by technicians in the field collecting data each week.
The Hot Zone Report is a pilot project. If deemed successful, the Yukon Avalanche Association will be able to offer the Hot Zone Report avalanche advisory again in the coming years; that is, if funding for the project continues. This year the Hot Zone Report has been funded by the Yukon Government (Department of Community Services, Sports and Recreation branch) and the Community Development Fund, as well as other sources.
So far, more than sixty people have taken the Mountain Information Network training and in recent weeks the Yukon has proportionately the highest number of reports submitted as compared to areas in southern Canada. This makes Jasmin Dobson “super-proud” of Yukoners.
“If the Hot Zone Report and Mountain Information Network succeeds anywhere, it will be in the Yukon,” Ben Horowitz says. He says since arriving in the Yukon a few years ago, he’s noticed that Yukoners take care of each other.
“It’s different from down south where skiers can often guard details of their travels and don’t always share where they’ve skied or what they saw,” he says. “We’re all in this together. We won’t get a professional Hot Zone Report if we don’t submit information to the Mountain Information Network.”
Two training sessions on the Mountain Information Network have already been offered in December and more will be rolled out in 2017 including two advanced level field days in the White Pass.
These sessions are open to any and all backcountry recreationists.
“If we can coalesce information from all these sources, we are going to create a tight cohesive group with accurate information,” Horowitz says.
Horowitz and Dobson are encouraged by what has
developed so far.
“The enthusiasm has been incredible,” Dobson says.
If you are interested in the courses, contact the Yukon Avalanche Association through its website for further details.
For more information contact Jasmin Dobson by email at president@YukonAvalanche.ca.