Discussion Page   Home     Help   Index     Login
Interesting CBC Avalanche Article #3973
Back To Discussion List Written: 2013.02.14 by: Frank W. Baumann

There was an interesting piece on CBC yesterday regarding the growing popularity of backcountry skiing and the risks involved; check it out here: CBC avalanche piece.

What was most interesting was the B.C. map and description of avalanche fatalities over the 2010/11 and 2011/12 season; you can view it here: CBC Map showing fatal avalanche accident locations over the past two seasons.

My first reaction was: why hasn't the Canadian Avalanche Association been publishing something like this over the years? In the U.S., they seem to do a far better job of reporting on avalanche incidents; for example, check out these reports at the Utah Avalanche Centre. Notice that these are amazingly thorough reports- photographs, diagrams, snow profiles, etc. etc.. And they seem to be issued right after an accident.

As I studied the CBC map showing avalanche deaths a little bit more, I noticed that 16 of the 24 avalanche deaths involved snowmobilers; they seem to represent by far the most vulnerable group. But at least 5, and possible 6 or 7 of the deaths involved commercial heli- or cat skiing or otherwise guided parties- this seems extremely high to me. After all, I would think that there are vastly more snowmobilers and ski mountaineers than there are heli and cat and guided skiers, so the per capita death rate amongst commercial groups seems incredibly high. Again, though, it is really hard to draw any good conclusions because the Canadian Avalanche Association does such a poor job of publishing good statistics and accounts of avalanche accidents and near misses; something I've complained about for years.

There was a pretty good study on avalanche deaths that was published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal a few years ago- it is referenced in this Bivouac article.

The Good News in all this: the CBC article seems to suggest that the death rate amongst amateur back country skiers is very low- like, of the 24 deaths, only 3 involved backcountry skiers. AND, even better, it seems that no skiers on Club trips were killed!


#1717 - 2013.09.18 Frank W. Baumann - The statistics speak for themselves
"So we are in agreement that things can get better and that significant strides have been made over the years."


#1716 - 2013.09.17 Mark Klassen
For most of the fatal accidents on the CAC database there seems to be a similar amount of information available as the example you show - eg the Sifton Col fatality from last spring. And the AAA database certainly doesn't include every avalanche accident in the US, even some of the fatal accidents listed on the site have little information (Apocalypse Couloir fatality).

If Canada had a population of 300 million like the US has perhaps we would have the same resources to have CAC investigators sent to more accident sites.

Of course improvements can always be made, none of us and no organization is perfect. Financial resources are the major impediment so your donation will help, or talk to your MLA and MP about how the government can support these programmes. So we are in agreement that things can get better and that significant strides have been made over the years.

#1715 - 2013.09.17 Frank W. Baumann - On the right track....but not there yet!
The publicly-available CAA incident data base is a good start- but is a relatively new feature- and still relies mainly on non-expert reporting of information, and is woefully incomplete.

For example, how many of the reported incidents involved an assessment by an avalanche professional? How many are reported within days of an incident (not counting media reports by reporters with little avalanche knowledge)? How many include pictures and slope and snow profiles? By comparison, here is just one report from the AAA incident database; follow the links through to see how much information there is, and who it was compiled by: Accident Report

I admit- there have been major improvements over the last few years- but there is still a long ways to go. What is so important to realize is that thorough documentation of accidents is vitally important for reporting statistics. For example, a very important direct relationship exists between slope angle and avalanche occurrence; see, for example, Bruce Tremper's data on this: Slope steepness vs avalanche occurrence

So for this data to be useful, slope angle must be carefully and accurately measured by an experienced observer using an accurate clinometer. So how many of the Canadian reports include this type of reliable data?

#1714 - 2013.09.17 Mark Klassen
Comparing the Utah Avalanche Centre and AAA databases with the CAC database they seem almost identical to me. Perhaps I'm missing something. In what way is the CAC data significantly different?

The UAC database has more detail but I don't think every avalanche incident in Utah is recorded there. The geography is a bit different too - the BC/Alberta mountain ranges being larger than the Wasatch Range on a scale of about 75 to 1. So it is a bit easier to get to an avalanche site in a timely manner in Utah.

Avalanche incidents involving CAA members are recorded, analysed and displayed on the CAC site that I linked to in my previous post.

What you are correct about is that the CAA does not have a formal complaint review process that could lead to formal disciplinary measures against members. This has been identified and is in the process of being addressed within the association. As are proper scope of practice documents etc. I agree with you that this is a shortcoming so I hope this is rectified soon.

That said, as I mentioned before there is always the police, criminal courts and civil courts to deal with wrongdoing or negligence. My opinion is that those instruments would do a better job of dealing with this sort of thing than an avalanche worker's peers anyway. But you are correct that the CAA should have formal process to deal with complaints, especially those of a lesser nature than a serious avalanche incident.

#1713 - 2013.09.17 Frank W. Baumann - The CAA's Analysis and Reporting of Accidents
Hi Mark. Your comments still don't answer the basic question of why the CAA can't do the same thing as is done in Utah by the folks at the [a href=]Utah Avalanche Centre. - produce a report within two days of an incident complete with photographs, diagrams, snow profiles, etc. etc.

For that matter, why can't the CAA at least compile information as is done by the American Avalanche Association. For many years, the AAA site also reported Canadian accidents- but that became embarrassing and was discontinued when it was realized that virtually all information on Canadian accidents came only from media sources, and not from technical reports completed by the CAA.

And why can't the CAA do the same thing in terms of investigation, analysis, and disciplinary actions if warranted, as is done by professional organizations, such as engineers, doctors, lawyers, etc.? I don't have a problem if the CAA does this internally; just do it and issue results that are available to the public so that we can all learn.

In the 1980's, the CAA was opposed to issuing public avalanche bulletins. This is a similar issue where potentially life saving information is not being provided.

#1712 - 2013.09.17 Mark Klassen - You have the wrong person
Mr Baumann, you are talking to Mark, not Karl.

In response to your numbered points:

1. Yes, most coroner's investigations are done by ACMG or CAA members, but if they are the experts in the field who else should be performing them? Police investigate police, doctors investigate doctors, etc. At least if the coroner is overseeing the investigation it is more arm's-length than if the professional associations investigate themselves.

2. Yes, coroner's investigations are limited in scope, but they are performing at least part of the function you indicate you want in your last paragraph. Assessing responsibility, reprimanding members and unprofessional behaviour can be addressed by the police and the criminal court, by the civil court, and/or the ACMG Conduct Review Committee (see #3 below).

That said, accidents and near-misses are not universally reported and investigated in any jurisdiction in the world. Spend a few days skiing in the Alps during an avalanche cycle and you will see a multitude of incidents that are not reported. However, every fatal avalanche accident in BC and Alberta is investigated by the police and the coroner.

The CAC does provide the resources for people to record incidents here:

It also has a database on reported incidents here:

And it has a general analysis of incidents here:

On that same page you can download Volumes 1-4 of the book Avalanche Accidents in Canada for free. In addition they have published Volume 5 of that book and it is available for purchase on the CAC website here:

3. The Association of Canadian Mountain Guides has a process to investigate members if a complaint has been lodged. You can find it here:

This process has been in place for some time and has responded to several complaints over the years.

The ACMG Code of Conduct, members' Scope of Practice, and other governance documents can be found here:

I believe these CAC and ACMG links will provide the information you are looking for.


Mark (not Karl) Klassen

#1709 - 2013.09.13 Frank W. Baumann - Reports are needed
While I respect Mark's comments, there are several issues that must be considered:

1. The Coroner's reports rely on an underlying consultant's report, many of which in the past have been done by a member of the CAA or the ACMG. So if there is a concern about a conflict of interest- well, it already exists.

2. Coroner's reports are limited in their scope- they are only fact finding and do not delve into the more difficult question of assessing responsibility and reprimanding members who are deemed to have acted unprofessionally.

3. Every registered and legislated professional organization in B.C., such as members of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C., do investigations of their member's actions if a complaint is lodged. This is required by law. If a member is found guilty of actions contrary to the Engineering Act (a legislated standard), they are subject to reprimand and other actions, and the essentials of the case, including the name(s) of the responsible party, are publicly reported in the monthly journal of the Association.

B.C. is one of the few jurisdictions in the entire world where avalanches occur and where accidents, including fatalities and near misses, are not investigated and reported and used to compile thorough and complete records of case histories. Since case histories are fundamental to learning, I believe that part of the CAA's grant funding should go towards this most important task.

#1707 - 2013.09.11 Mark Klassen - Guides don't investigate themselves because it would be a conflict of interest
Actually these statistics cover 4 years rather than two: 2009/10, 2010/11, 2011/12, 2012/13.

Five of them were accidents involving guides. Not more.

Commercial, mechanized skiing has a higher rate of exposure to risk than recreational users do. This is simply because of the amount of terrain covered in a typical day of skiing. Throughout BC in mid-winter there are a couple of thousand mechanized skiers skiing on a daily basis, with 5,000-10,000 m of skiing per person in a typical day of skiing. That's a lot of skiers in a lot of avalanche terrain. Compare that to perhaps 1300 m of skiing per person in a typical day of touring. A simplistic way of looking at it would be that the 4 - 8 times more exposure to avalanche terrain would mean 4 -8 times more accidents for mechanized skiers over ski tourers, which is not the case.

In regards to accident investigations - every avalanche fatality in BC is investigated by the BC Coroner's service. Isn't it a good thing that these investigations are done by an agency other than the guides association? It would be a clear conflict of interest for guides to investigate themselves.

#1652 - 2013.02.16 Frank W. Baumann - Why does the CAA or the ACMG not do accident investigations?
I read with interest the sad story of Lenami Godinez-Avila, the hang gliding passenger who fell to her death while on a tandem hang glider with pilot Jon Orders; you can see the CBC account here:

Now right after this accident, the Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada did a thorough investigation and found that "multiple distractions prior to takeoff and pilot error contributed to the death."

So why doesn't the Canadian Avalanche Association and/or the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides do an investigation, and release it to the public, when one of their members is involved in a fatal avalanche accident? In the CBC story reported above, it appears that at least 5, and possibly 6 or 7, avalanche fatalities over the 2010/11 and 2011/12 winter season involved people who were under the care of a commercial guide.

Why no investigation?