SFU Executive Summary

Academic partnerships have been a highly valued piece of the puzzle at HeliCat Canada for a very long time. Many of our research initiatives and special projects rely heavily on the collaborative efforts of a wide variety of scholars and analysts.


This is why we’re thrilled to be sharing and celebrating the recently released executive summary of a study conducted by Matthias Walcher and Pascal Haegeli at Simon Frasier University’s Avalanche Research Program. With funding from HeliCat and Mitacs, the study sought to assess the various risks associated with mechanized skiing in Canada in an effort to enable a more quantitative approach to the evaluation and improvement of current standards and best practices in terms of backcountry safety. While we acknowledge that some resources do exist to track incidents related to helicopter and snowcat skiing, our sector lacks a dedicated and central database for reporting and consultation. The result is an ill-defined system and a need for consistent quantitative data collection.


In spite of the fact that the project revealed some gaps in our current level of understanding with respect to risk management, it is a positive step forward for our sector. This kind of research has a significant impact on the ways in which operators work to prevent incidents from occurring throughout the season, from creating staff training modules to maintaining equipment and mitigating hazards across the board. It also helps us to develop a healthy and progressive working community based on transparency and honest, open dialogue.


Moving forward, we can see that there is still much work to be done, particularly when it comes to incident reporting and record keeping. In light of this, HeliCat Canada and the SFU Avalanche Research Program are currently developing a secure online database to be used for incident and near miss reporting throughout the industry. The confidential database will allow for greater consistency and ease of use, and summary information will be available for sharing among operators to promote open communication around incidents. A prototype of the database will be presented at the HeliCat Canada spring meeting in Penticton in May, 2018, with an official launch date set for the beginning of the 2018/19 winter season. This new online system will enable the entire mechanized skiing community to monitor their safety record on a continual basis and respond to emerging trends more quickly and in a more informed way.


While the complete results of this study are currently being written up in a manuscript for publication in a peer-reviewed academic journal, the executive summary is available for public viewing. We look forward to continued collaboration with SFU and similar agencies in the future, and welcome your thoughts and feedback on the results of this insightful project to date.