The rapid shift from a fall in which they saw less than their normal call volume to basically full-blown winter here in the Kootenays has raised a few concerns for Kimberley Search and Rescue.
“We’ve gone from basically a pretty strong Indian summer right into, I would say, the heights of winter,” said Kimberley SAR president Peter Reid.
“It’s minus 12 right now and snowing [on Monday, Nov. 7] and that’s going to create a fair bit of concern in terms of people getting caught unaware and unprepared. So really hoping that if anyone’s going out in the back country that they’re prepared for changing conditions and frankly for cold conditions, as we move fully into winter.”
Usually at the beginning of winter the East Kootenay gets a strong freeze before the snow starts to accumulate on top, whereas this year it got the snow first and then the freeze. Reid wonders what this may mean for avalanche conditions moving forward.
The concern right now is a great deal of light and very dry snow fell, rather than the damp, heavy snow that would form a base. This snow has no base at all and is essentially bottomless, so Reid worries that people headed into the backcountry will epect the snow to support them, when at the moment it will not.
“I was sinking right down to the bottom as I was walking the dogs out here in Meadowbrook, with zero base, so right to the ground,” Reid said. “So if you just expand that to up in the high country, that means that all those logs and trees, all those hidden things that you can normally see, you won’t be able to see anymore, but you’re still going to be able to hit them.
“Hopefully that doesn’t mean that we have any accidents happening, but hopefully people will also be aware that they need to be really cautious out there for that kind of thing.”
With Kimberley Alpine Resort looking ready to re-open their main chairlift at the start of this season, Reid expects a bump in tourism back to normal, or above-normal levels this winter, which likely means a bigger surge into the backcountry from people utilizing Kimberley as a recreational base of operations, or those who seek fresh turns off-piste at KAR.
The messaging from SAR is the same each winter: if you are planning a trip into the backcountry, let people know where you’re going and when, and bring the necessary equipment and knowledge: shovel, probe and transceiver and an ASD Course 1 or Course 2. Those being the recreational courses people can take to help them become more aware about travelling in avalanche territory, which Kimberley is surrounded by.
“I’m hoping we have a quiet winter but I’m preparing for not a quiet winter,” Reid said.
For SAR transititioning from fall to winter means, as Reid put it, “dusting off the cobwebs from not only our equipment, but also from our brains.”
They are currently in the process of updating their avalanche response plan they have every year, which includes helicopter response as well. This involves sitting down with all their level 2 avalanche techs and discussing what this year might look like and then beginning to hone their skills again. This begins on a tabletop level until the area gets enough snow, at which point backcountry avalanche response training will begin.
Swiftwater teams will also transition to ice rescue training at this point. Reid added that at this point in the year ice is too thin to be driving or even walking on so be very aware of that.
The teams will also start making sure all their gear is all set, including having their skis ready to roll, their trucks winterized, their wooly jackets out and their transcievers updated.
“We certainly do encourage people to do the same thing, you should be range checking your transceiver every year, making sure that it doesn’t need a software update,” Reid explained. “Most of the modern, three-antenna digital transceivers actually have firmware that can be updated and the manufacturers are pretty good at doing that.”
After all of this Reid says it’s just a matter of “sitting around hoping that we never get called.”