By Andru McCracken
Reps from Avalanche Canada, the national organization in charge of educating outdoor recreationalists about the hazards of avalanches were in Valemount to push their comfort zone.
Kevin Seel, President of Avalanche Canada, spent his first day on a mountain sled at the beginning of March in Valemount. Results were as expected: he hit a tree and rolled his machine.
The idea was to get the entire board of Avalanche Canada out on mountain sleds because there are unique challenges facing sledders. Except for local Curtis Pawliuk, other board members didn’t have experience on modern mountain machines.
“I have got to tell you, everyone came back changed,” said Seel. “It was humbling. It was amazing.”
“There’s so many skills that have to come together; you have to operate this machine – which by the way is kind of trying to kill you – you have to be an expert on this machine, and you have to have snow sense, and you have to have your group program together understand your terrain and weather… I’m totally in awe.”
Curtis Pawliuk said that during his 10 years on the board he has seen a major shift in mindset and attitudes towards snowmobiling.
“It was crucial for my fellow Board members to experience what we do and why we do it first hand, to gain a true appreciation for the sledding experience,” said Pawliuk. “And also to understand the challenges that come along with it.”
Seel said early stereotypes of sledders not caring about safety created issues and even silos; he is confident those are breaking down.
“We’re really all out there doing the same thing. We love being on snow, we love being in the mountains,” said Seel. “Until you actually ride literally 62 kilometers in the other guy’s shoes, you just don’t understand. This has changed, fundamentally, the way our board understands this entire community.”
There is mounting evidence that sledders get the picture regarding avalanche safety.
“I hear of sledders who, if you don’t have the gear, the equipment and the training – they will not ride with you,” said Seel. “They’ve really embraced it.”