DEDICATED DUO  Forster Trail Host Tania Halik and her avalanche dog Summit on a field day in February. Photo by Martina Halik/Raven Eye Photography

DEDICATED DUO Forster Trail Host Tania Halik and her avalanche dog Summit on a field day in February. Photo by Martina Halik/Raven Eye Photography

By Breanne Massey

Pioneer Staff

Tania Halik will be greeting backcountry travellers at the Forster Creek trailhead to offer up safety information and weather conditions to prepare visitors for avalanches this winter with her trusty canine companion, Summit.

The challenge of it attracted me to the contract this year, explained Ms. Halik. I am very safety-oriented. I used to work as an avalanche forecaster at Panorama and I noticed that the snowmobiling community is in need of avalanche education. I thought that I could use my experience from the ski hill and my skills for educating this group of people.

Ms. Halik will be patrolling the Forster Creek area and providing information about avalanche conditions, trail conditions, closure details and general information for the second year in a row.

This year in particular, a change in road use and parking locations will be important to share with users, said Aina Cernenoks, recreation officer for the Rocky Mountain District at Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. Active logging in the Forster Creek drainage means that recreationists will share the road with industrial traffic.

A new parking lot located at the 27.7-kilometre mark on Forster Creek Forest Service Road will require snowmobilers to drive an extra 9 kilometres further up the road. There will be zero tolerance for parking permitted in the areas used during the previous year, according to Ms. Cernenoks.

Drivers with two-way radios will benefit from tuning into the appropriate frequency to communicate with other road users, she added.

Forest Service Roads have signs at their entrances indicating the name of the road and the appropriate radio frequency to tune in to. If you are a user of a two-way radio, you should tune in to the appropriate frequency and then call in your location and direction. Other users will do the same, so you will know if there is a need for you to pull out at some point to allow loaded trucks to pass. Keep in mind that not all road users will have radios, Ms. Cernenoks warned.

It is illegal to operate a snowmobile on snowplowed Forest Service Roads in B.C. Regular rules of travelling on industrial roads apply in the area, and signage will be distributed throughout the popular trail network this winter.

Ms. Halik reminds snowmobilers that the Catamount and Northstar Glaciers are closed to snowmobiles at this time. The Northstar Glacier remains closed all year, whereas the Catamount Glacier opens for snowmobile use after February 14th.

I can also warn people if the conditions are not that great, said Ms. Halik.

In addition, Ms. Halik is hoping to offer three avalanche awareness courses, just as she did last year during the programs pilot year, to help inform people about staying safe in the backcountry.

I was teaching people mostly about how to conduct a proper search proper probing techniques and shoveling techniques, she explained. A lot of people, even people who took awareness courses, learn the proper techniques but because they do not practice, they are very rusty so it made people realize that everybody needs to practice these skills regularly.

She is hoping to recruit volunteers to run the programming again this winter.

Ms. Halik noted that her hours of operation as trail host will vary over the winter as she also works as a paramedic. Summit always comes with me, too.

Along with her dog Summit, she became certified through the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association in January 2015 a process that took two years, and now allows the duo to respond to avalanche disasters. Before earning their certification last month, Ms. Halik and Summit could only assist in an emergency.

We can respond really fast when were together, said Ms. Halik.

Financial support for the Trail Host program comes from Regional District Areas F and G, the Columbia Basin Trust, Recreation Sites and Trails BC, the Windermere Valley Snowmobile Society, and the Village of Radium Hot Springs. All involved stakeholders, including Canfor, the Columbia Valley Hut Society, Toby Creek Adventures and RK Heliski, support the Forster Trail Host and other Forster area initiatives to promote safe and co-operative use of the backcountry.

The daily sledding fees for the Forster Creek area are $20 and annual memberships are available online through the BC Snowmobile Federation at www.wvss-bcsf.silkstart.com/join. Day tickets can be purchased at the Radium Visitor Information Centre and at the trailhead.

For more information about staying safe, visit www.bcforestsafe.org/files/tk_pdfs/gde_resrd.pdf.

With files from Dan Walton