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In Pictures: Ski safety becomes popular Add to ...

Backcountry skiers and snowboarders aren’t required to take an avalanche safety course before heading to the mountains. But growing numbers of them appear to think some precautionary education is a good idea. A record 400 people signed up for two levels of avalanche safety courses offered by Whistler Alpine Guides Bureau last ski season and the group is on track to repeat or exceed those numbers by next spring. The courses, which provide classroom and outdoor sessions, cover topics such as snow conditions, route planning and search and rescue techniques. Students include experienced and novice backcountry enthusiasts with a common aim: staying safe and alive in snowy, untracked terrain. Much discussion revolves around gear, including airbag safety systems and a device designed to provide fresh, breathable air to someone buried in snow. Such equipment might buy a person time in the event of an avalanche, but a better option is to avoid avalanche-prone terrain and conditions, says instructor Tyree Trand. And he urges students to rehearse, noting that a few minutes fumbling with equipment can make a difference between life and death. “Your best chance of survival is a very fast, efficient and rehearsed rescue.”

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