Avalanche Association building towards a safer backcountry

Considering the deadliest avalanche known in North America happened on the Chilkoot Trail in April 1898, killing an estimated 63 people, it might seem odd that very location is not covered by the Canadian Avalanche Centre's forecasting system.

Considering the deadliest avalanche known in North America happened on the Chilkoot Trail in April 1898, killing an estimated 63 people, it might seem odd that very location is not covered by the Canadian Avalanche Centre’s forecasting system.

Granted, there are not thousands heading over the White Pass by foot these days, but the area is not without incident – even in recent years.

However, the Yukon Avalanche Association, which was formed in the spring, hopes to eliminate some of the dangers people face from avalanches in that part of the backcountry.

“It’s kind of the culmination of about 20 years of work by individuals working in the avalanche safety field in the Yukon,” said avalanche association president Kirstie Simpson. “Finally we pulled all those avalanche practitioners and public safety folks together.

“It’s from a build-up of more and more use of the backcountry, more interest from the schools that have curriculum, incidents that are occurring – those kind of things.”

In the last 20 years, that region of the Yukon has seen six avalanche fatalities, including skiers, a snowmobiler, a researcher and even a child playing in the snow.

The association hopes to reduce further incidents two ways. First, by continued use of the of the avalanche centre’s bulletin board where people of all stripes can report avalanche sightings, signs of impeding avalanches and even weather. The second initiative – a much more costly one – is the installation of snow-testing and weather stations.

Information taken from those two sources, combined with information from US Parks, Parks Canada and highway weather programs, can be used to establish an avalanche forecasting system, based on an international rating system.

“It’s a standard system, but we don’t apply it in the Yukon right now because we don’t have enough data,” said Simpson. “You can’t establish a regional weather forecast on the basis of one weather station. So, for us to do an avalanche bulletin, we need to establish additional weather stations.”

The avalanche centre’s bulletin board, which includes Yukon postings in the section titled “Klondike,” has been in place since 2004.

“The system has been in place for about 30 years for BC and Alberta, so we’ll just be adding Yukon to the standard system of avalanche warning,” said Simpson. “That, of course, depends on us getting the funding we’ve applied for.”

While firsthand accounts from the public are free, the installation of a fully integrated system comes with a hefty price tag. The avalanche association believes the system could cost close to a $1 million, which the association has applied for federal funding to cover, and could be in place – if they receive the funding – as early as December 2012.

“We’re very close to a million dollars in costs to get it going as a two-year program – it’s not cheap,” said Simpson.

While the technology the association is seeking will provide empirical information, the association can’t stress enough the importance of people reporting what they see – or don’t see – in the backcountry.

“Information on what you don’t see is equally important – if you’re seeing something or not seeing something,” said Simpson. “If you’re out in the backcountry and you’re not hearing or seeing anything, that’s just as important.

“The other important thing is reporting on weather. They are all little pieces of a big puzzle.”

For more information, to become a member, or perhaps to report an avalanche sighting, visit association’s website at www.yukonavalanche.ca.

Contact Tom Patrick at


Just Posted

Yukon government puts $530k towards Gladue report pilot project

Three-year pilot project will train people to write Gladue reports for Indigenous offenders

Greyhound cleared to end routes in Yukon, northern B.C.

Company says ridership on nine routes has dropped 30 per cent in last five years

Yukon Quest wraps up with awards banquet

Commando and Dutch win Golden Harness Award, juicy steaks

Tagish dog owner says she surrendered, euthanized 10 dogs

Animal health unit, however, says only 8 dogs have been surrendered in 2018

No Resource Gateway construction work this season, YG says

‘We’re not as advanced as we would have liked to have been but we still are advancing’

Former Whitehorse RCMP officer gets conditional discharge for sexual assault

Judge Richard Scheider sided with the defence’s argument that conditional discharge was appropriate

Tagish dog rescue owner asks court to change dog surrender order

Shelley Cuthbert is asking for changes to an order requiring her to surrender 10 dogs per month

Dangerous offender hearing underway for former Yukon man who sexually abused 13 girls

The man pleaded guilty to sexually abusing 13 girls over seven years in the Yukon, B.C. and Ontario

Team Yukon has strong showing at Whistler Super Youth and Timber Tour

‘Anwyn absolutely destroyed the competition’

Yukon skier turns in personal best at Junior World Championships

‘It was another great international racing experience’

Most Canadians believe journalism plays critical role in democracy: poll

Survey suggests 94 per cent of Canadians feel journalism plays ‘important’ part

Yukon child care deal to fund grandparents, courses for caregivers

‘How this is completely going to look, we’re still working on’

Most Read