CANMORE – Avalanche Canada will be able to continue to provide public safety services after the federal government announced it will provide the non-profit organization a one-time endowment of $25 million.
While details about the funding remain uncertain, it will help ensure the national organization can continue to provide programs and services for backcountry enthusiasts.
“We are very grateful for this funding, and especially for the recognition that public avalanche safety is worthy of support,” said Gilles Valade, executive director of Avalanche Canada.
“The federal government has made a significant commitment to this cause. We hope the provinces involved in avalanche safety are able to follow this lead.”
Prior to the funding announcement Avalanche Canada was facing an uncertain future and warned the public it would be forced to cut life saving services if it did not receive more funding.
“Winter backcountry recreation is on a step growth curve, we see new sports coming in, new territories that weren’t used before and our funding has been pretty well stable and somewhat declining,” said Valade.
“It’s like stretching an elastic. At some point it’s going to snap, so in order to avoid that you start reducing what you’re doing.”
According to Valade, his organization passed a deficit budget earlier this year and was considering scaling back its services to shore up its bottom line.
“It’s pretty hard to operate an organization at a deficit,” said Valade, explaining his organization’s budget is around $2 million a year.
Avalanche Canada was established in 2004 in response to 29 people killed during the winter of 2002/2003, including seven high school students.
Since then avalanche facilities have stabilized at an average rate of 12 per year.
With an increase in the number of people venturing into the backcountry Valade said his organization’s budget will need to double in size in order to provide adequate services for all mountainous regions, such as the northern Rockies which is currently underserved.
“It’s a huge area and very popular with snowmobilers,” said Valade. “Ten years ago it wasn’t necessarily a big concern because it wasn’t really popular, but now with the popularity of mountain snowmobiling and the machines they have it’s just become a very popular destination.”
Avalanche Canada is funded by the B.C. and Alberta government as well as through grants, retail sales and private sponsorship. It provides daily public avalanche forecasts for many of the mountainous regions of western Canada and in terms of area is the largest avalanche forecast program in the world.
It also develops and coordinates public avalanche safety education, delivers youth awareness and training seminars and contributes to snow safety research.