Special project: tracking the industry safety record

Safety in the HeliCat sector is a cornerstone of the association and the industry it serves. One of the most significant concerns expressed by industry in HeliCat’s 2016 Socio-Economic Impact Assessment stated, “…without reporting, we have no way to monitor and track the safety record of the industry.”

Taking a huge step forward to address this issue, HeliCat has partnered with Simon Fraser University (SFU) and Mitacs Canada for an Incident Database and Sector Risk Project. The $15,000 research project will not only develop a secure online database for storing detailed incident information, but will also incorporate historical data to provide an accurate risk assessment.

“While we have a decent understanding of the risks associated with avalanche involvements in helicopter and snowcat skiing, there is little quantitative information available about the risks associated with other hazards,” explains Ian Tomm, Executive Director of HeliCat Canada. “This study will start to address the knowledge gap.”

The research project aims to collect as much information as possible about historic incidents associated with all types of hazard (e.g., avalanches, tree wells, cravasses, vehicles, etc.) in an effort to clearly assess the risk factors at play.

“After compiling information from all sources that are publicly available, such as avalanche accident books and Transport Canada reports, we are now working with individual HeliCat operators  to collect more detailed incident data,” explains Pascal Haegeli, University Research Chair in Avalanche Risk Management at SFU. “We’ve had lots of interest from operators and we are looking forward to working together with them on the data collection process as the season starts to wind down.”

The initial research project concludes in June 2017 and full findings will be presented at the HeliCat AGM in September.

HeliCat Canada invests more than $100,000 annually on research and special projects for the industry.

-HeliCat Canada

A commitment to mountain caribou recovery

Sustainable wildlife management is a top priority for HeliCat Canada. The organization has been working with stakeholders and the British Columbia government for more than a decade to establish wildlife best practices and procedures for wilderness skiing operators in the province.

Those conversations resulted in a significant success story in early February as the BC government announced a significant investment into the comprehensive mountain caribou recovery plan — $27 million over three years.

“We are celebrating this new announcement as it’s an important step in the province’s recovery strategy for mountain caribou,” says Ian Tomm, Executive Director with HeliCat Canada.

“We work closely with the Ministries of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Environment to ensure all operators in our organization are aware of mapped caribou habitat in their areas,” explains Tomm. “If caribou are spotted on a run, the operation closes that run and the area around it for at least 48 hours. Only after confirming the animals have moved out of the area will operations return to the region.”

According to the province, there are approximately 19,000 caribou in BC today, compared to between 30,000 and 40,000 at the turn of the last century.

The new funding will support five key components:

  • Critical caribou habitat protection and restoration

  • Maternal penning

  • Predator management

  • Research and monitoring

  • Increased compliance and enforcement

“We’ve already invested millions of dollars and set aside critical habitat, but stronger action is required to reverse population declines, and ensure that our children and grandchildren have the opportunity to experience these animals in the wild,” said Premier Christy Clark during the funding announcement.

HeliCat Canada will continue to work with the government and other sectors to support mountain caribou recovery in BC.

-HeliCat Canada

Avalanche Awareness Days: safety in the backcountry

This weekend is Avalanche Awareness Days and HeliCat Canada is reminding everyone about the importance of safety in the backcountry.

While it’s tempting to head into the backcountry on your own to find an epic line, with limited training it might be a better choice to head out with an experienced operation.

Helicopter and snowcat skiing operations around Western Canada are staffed with guides who have extensive avalanche training and decades of backcountry experience. Not only are guides highly trained, but guests are required to go through avalanche training before stepping foot in a helicopter or cat.

Nancy Geismar, Education and Outreach Coordinator at Avalanche Canada, says training saves lives.

“There is minimal time to react if someone does get buried and it’s imperative that the group know self-rescue skills,” she says. “Also with training, people can avoid suspect avalanche terrain to begin with, as they have learned to recognize terrain and how to use the Avalanche Forecast and ATES ratings.”

Confidence in your guides

Geismar explains the importance of having confidence in the group you’re heading out with, that everyone has training, gear and enough knowledge to understand the avalanche forecast.

Having experienced helicopter and snowcat guides choosing your terrain significantly increases confidence in safety. In A day in the life of a Canadian ski guide, we learned the run list for the day isn’t determined until there’s a full review of snow conditions, weather reports and avalanche risk.

As Geismar puts it, “the goal is to continue to have fun in the backcountry, but have the knowledge to do it safely.”

HeliCat Canada represents 30 operations who are committed to ensuring guests have a safe and enjoyable experience in the backcountry.

For the latest Avalanche conditions report and more information on Avalanche Awareness Days, visit the Avalanche Canada website.


-HeliCat Canada

A day in the life of a Canadian ski guide

As the end of December draws near, there’s a buzz of excitement in the air. And it’s not just the impending arrival of Santa and his reindeer.

In the middle of the Christmas festivities, helicopter blades start rotating and snowcats are revving their engines to take guests from around the world to some of the most pristine powder on the planet. And helping those guests create iconic memories and keeping them safe are some of the luckiest folks around — ski guides.

Today we peek out from our cubicles to check out a typical day in the life of a Canadian ski guide. One hint: there are no photocopiers.

Really early

Wake up. Drink coffee.

Also early

The morning meeting may be the official start to the day, but there is an expectation of advance preparation. Guides are required to come prepared with a full review of weather and avalanche conditions to discuss with the team.

More coffee.

Morning operational meeting

Safety is the number one priority for HeliCat operations, from snow conditions to weather reports and equipment maintenance. All of this is covered at the morning meeting. Every day is different. Did the weather change overnight? What will the forecast mean for the day ahead? Avalanche conditions are reviewed and discussed. All of this goes into determining the run list for that particular day.

But it’s not just about the skiing — there are so many other elements to discuss and finesse for the day! Over another cup of coffee, the team works through logistics such as van transportation, road conditions, incoming/outgoing guests, new guest training, staff skiing…the list goes on.

Breakfast

Bacon and eggs anyone? Or oatmeal…we won’t judge.

First flight/cat leaves

All guests are required to receive training, which takes approximately one hour. Those already trained up and ready to go, hop on their chopper or cat and head out to the field. The rest remain for mandatory Mountain Safety Training before loading up and heading out.

Ski…over and over again

It’s all about the powder for the next several hours until approximately one hour before sunset. This buffer allows for any unanticipated events, such as an injury, to allow enough daylight to adequately respond with a helicopter. As the days get longer in the spring, operators work closely with guides and pilots to ensure adequate rest time to avoid fatigue.

Après ski

The incredible powder days and mountain vistas are only part of what makes ski guiding an incredible experience. The guests make up the rest. Having a chance to meet people from around the world and showcase a true Canadian experience is like no other. That’s where après ski comes to play! Guides and guests mingle and chat about the day.

Evening tech meeting

A debrief of the day is just as critical as the morning operational meeting. The team shares specific observations regarding conditions, rates the hazard and submits relevant data to the CAA InfoEx information exchange program. This program is designed specifically for operations to work together, sharing conditions information with the priority of a safe experience for all.

If you’re interested in guiding, check out some of the latest job postings on our website!

-HeliCat Canada