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Out-of-bounds skiers face 'absolute peril' on Vancouver Island

By SCOTT STANFIELD
February 21, 2013 · 4:25 PM
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OUT-OF-BOUNDS backcountry areas are seductive to skiers in search of perfect powder, but they're more dangerous. That applies on Vancouver Island just like it does in other areas that attract skiers. / Courtesy Island Alpine Guides

The warnings are there for a reason, but some skiers feel compelled to leave designated boundaries in search of pristine powder in backcountry terrain.

The Island is no exception.

"There is an absolute peril here on Vancouver Island," said Jan Neuspiel, owner/guide at Island Alpine Guides. He is also the executive director and lead forecaster for the Avalanche Bulletin.

Mount Washington has a boundary rope, with openings or gates marking spots where people are welcome to leave the resort's property for backcountry skiing.

Except during avalanche control.

"Just because they're opening them (gates) doesn't mean there's no hazard back there," said Neuspiel, a member of the Canadian Avalanche Association and Association of Canadian Mountain Guides. "It just means that the hazard that might be created by avalanche control is gone.

"Everyone needs to be very clear if they go through those gates and into uncontrolled backcountry where real hazards exist."

If skiers are caught ducking under ropes to access the backcountry, they will lose their ski pass at Mount Washington.

Exercising caution is more than being careful, added Neuspiel, noting the importance of training and experience to recognize, assess and mitigate hazard.

He considers the emphasis on the need for avalanche safety gear as a "reactive solution" to being buried in an avalanche.

"What's much more important is to have the training and experience to make good decisions to avoid being caught in an avalanche."

A basic avalanche course is not enough, added Neuspiel, who suggests a professional guide can "accelerate learning dramatically."

Incident reports are listed at islandavalanchebulletin.com.

"We have no shortage of people getting involved in avalanches on the Island. I'm happy to say that to date there have been no fatalities but there's been some pretty serious injuries," Neuspiel said. "I hate to say it but it's not a question of if but when we're going to have a fatality. The popularity of backcountry skiing is growing (by) leaps and bounds."

reporter@comoxvalleyrecord.com