TRAPPED UNDER ICE  Columbia Valley Search and Rescue members practice an avalanche rescue drill at Panorama Mountain  Village on Sunday, February 10th. Photo by Dan Walton

TRAPPED UNDER ICE Columbia Valley Search and Rescue members practice an avalanche rescue drill at Panorama MountainVillage on Sunday, February 10th. Photo by Dan Walton

By Dan Walton

Pioneer Staff

The volunteer-based Columbia Valley Search and Rescue group was at Panorama Mountain Village last weekend, practicing for a real-life avalanche scenario during the time of year when one is most likely to occur.

Coordinating with members of the

Windermere Fire Department and the

Columbia Valley RCMP on Sunday, February 10th, allowed search and rescue members the chance to experience working with

local emergency services, training officer Dave Hubbard explained to The Pioneer.

More than a dozen volunteers were part of the technical avalanche response training, which takes place just once a year, while regular search and rescue practices are held on a monthly basis. Sundays scenario presented the team with a common avalanche response: a handful of skiers and snowboarders had been buried under a heavy pile of snow and debris. Some of the victims were wearing transceiver beacons, while others could only be traced by the equipment and clothing left behind as evidence.

Volunteers were split up into two groups: a rope rescue team which retrieved victims from near-vertical terrain, and a probing team that searched for buried bodies in the avalanche-deposited snow by thrusting avalanche probes (each of which measures longer than two metres) into the snowpack while advancing as a line in one direction.

Both scenarios were presented on Panoramas Mocha run, a double black diamond run at the resort.

Though Columbia Valley Search and Rescue hasnt had to respond to any avalanche problem so far this season, regular search and rescue practice is essential to realize good outcomes in the event of an actual emergency, says James Floyer, Public Avalanche Forecaster from the Canadian Avalanche Centre.

The more rescue time and practice that local search and rescue teams can do, the better the job theyll do, he said. Regarding current avalanche danger in the region, Mr. Floyer noted the conditions are relatively safe in the Purcells for the time being.

I think many areas are fundamentally looking fairly good, but as we go through February and March, we do tend to see more weak layers which get initially deposited on the surface, and then get buried, he said.

Generally speaking, the snowpack this season has been forgiving, stable and well-bonded for much of the season, Mr. Floyer said. He predicts the trend will continue until the end of the season, but had a warning for those putting themselves at risk.

The end of February and March historically are trickier months for recreationalists, and theres more of a requirement to check conditions before you go out; dont just assume everythings safe, he cautioned.

Current avalanche forecasts and conditions can be found online at .

The most practical way to gain

backcountry experience is through the local knowledge and safety equipment available at sport specialty stores, said Mr. Hubbard.

Columbia Valley Search and Rescues Ground Search and Rescue course offers new volunteers basic training, which leads to the option of more technical training. Anybody interested in joining the local search and rescue team can contact Dave Hubbard at 250-688-2504, and the team is especially interested in adding anyone who has skills on skis and back country experience, he said.