Avalanche hurdling towards Highway 1 near Rogers Pass during a highway closure. (Photo by Parks Canada)

‘Just because we got $25 million does not mean we’re good to go’: Avalanche Canada

The organisation wants B.C. to increase its funding as it relies on Avalanche Canada the most

Avalanche Canada said it’s still not in the clear after receiving a one-time endowment from the federal government of $25 million.

“The $25 million is fantastic. But in terms of needs, growth and where we should be, we’re still not there yet,” said Gilles Valade, executive director of Avalanche Canada. The new funding came into effect this year.

Avalanche Canada field technician Jen Coulter in the northern Rockies checking out the snowpack. The northern Rockies are now included in the organization’s forecasting. (Photo by Avalanche Canada)

Previously, the organization’s yearly budget was cobbled together from a variety of funders, such as provincial governments, businesses and individual donations. Most funding was from year to year, precarious and with little guarantee.

Valada said the $25 million does bring some stability.

READ MORE: Avalanche Canada in desperate need of funding

READ MORE: Avalanche Canada to receive federal financial boost

Last year’s budget was just over $2 million. However, according to the organization’s financial statements after expenses there was a surplus of only $1,300.

Avalanche Canada is a non-profit and non-government organization that aims to eliminate avalanche fatalities and injuries in Canada. It’s based in Revelstoke, B.C., but has 50 employees across the country.

The organization was formed in 2004 in response to 29 people killed during the winter of 2002/2003, including seven high school students.

The $25 million endowment is being used to “shore up existing programs and services” said Valada and further expand Avalanche Canada’s safety programs and avalanche forecasting to new areas, such as the northern Rockies.

The Yukon Avalanche Association and Avalanche Québec, which are sister organizations of Avalanche Canada, are also expanding their avalanche forecasts. For Yukon, they will produce three forecasts per week instead of one and Quebec will now have a daily forecast.

The $25 million needs to last for 10 years and be used for avalanche forecasting nationwide said Valade.

However, Valade said private organizations and individuals are starting to pull their funding since the one-time federal endowment was announced, which could cause Avalanche Canada to burn through the endowment faster, resulting in future financial strains.

Last year, more than 20 per cent of Avalanche Canada’s funding was from private sponsorships and donations.

“If you get $10 from one hand and you lose $10 from another, you’re not ahead. You’re neutral,” Valade said.

Skiing near Rogers Pass is becoming more popular. (Photo by Phil Tomlinson)

He continued the Alberta Government will most likely reduce it’s funding next year from $250,000 and the Columbia Basin Trust is pulling it’s entire funding of $150,000.

“It’s not negligible,” Valade said.

According to an email from Alberta Environment and Parks, Alberta needs “get spending under control so we don’t endanger future programs and services.” They continued that Avalanche Canada needs to also “find efficiencies in their operations” and funding for the next three years will be roughly $40,000 less.

Roughly 80 per cent of avalanches occur in British Columbia, making the province the most reliant on programs and services offered by Avalanche Canada.

However, Valade said B.C. is the lowest funder proportionally and suspects the province may reduce its backing next year. This year, B.C. provided roughly $400,000 to Avalanche Canada.

“There’s no guarantee it will continue.”

In an email to Black Press, the Ministry of Public Affairs wrote that the province appreciates the importance of Avalanche Canada and the need for its expansion. They continued that they are trying to increase funding.

“We are grateful for their [Avalanche Canada] continued patience as we look to provide additional secured funding that will protect and enhance the current service levels that ensure British Columbians remain safe when working or recreating in avalanche areas.”

Avalanche Canada would like to continue expanding in B.C., such as onto Vancouver Island.

However, Valade said that probably won’t happen if the province does not increase it’s funding.

Regardless, winter recreation is booming. The amount of annual winter permits provided by Parks Canada to skiers in Rogers Pass has almost quadrupled since 2011. A winter permit is needed to ski in Glacier National Park due to avalanche control on the Trans Canada Highway.

However, even with winter recreation increasing, avalanche fatalities are not. According to Avalanche Canada, the ten year average is 11 fatalities yearly, which is the lowest since 1997.

“We’re effective,” said Valade.

READ MORE: High avalanche risk forecasted for B.C interior

Last year, avalanche deaths while snowmobiling and climbing made up 30 per cent of fatalities compared to backcountry skiing fatalities that made up 25 per cent.

*Updated with comment from Alberta government


 

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