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Winter Safety

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Safety

At Retallack, safety is our number one priority. We are regarded as an industry leader in terms of safety and rescue skills. All of our professional guides are trained in guiding, client care, wildlife risk management, advanced first aid, advanced rescue, and are intimate with our rescue plan. Many of our staff are also certified Non-Urban Outdoor Emergency Care Technicians trained in Advanced Protocols and medication administration that operate under the oversight of our Medical Directors. We have extensive experience with safety wrangling and site location / construction for action sports films, competitions, and photo shoots. In addition, we interoperate closely with other emergency medical services and undergo extensive external safety audits every five years. In our most recent audit, we once again achieved full marks. The following provides an additional overview regarding key elements of our Mountain Safety Program.

Safety Meetings

At Retallack, our guides, snowcat drivers, and avalanche forecaster comprise our Mountain Safety Team. All Retallack guides and snowcat drivers meet each morning and evening to analyse weather data, snow stability and terrain choice based on field observations, snow pit data and information received from our mountain weather stations.

During the morning we review reports from all of the other snowcat and heliskiing operators in the province regarding their conditions and snow stability. This enables us to obtain a “big picture” view of our conditions and evaluations and compare them to our industry peers.

Our morning meetings are designed to encourage rigorous decision-making based on factual evidence and to prepare our personnel before they enter the mountains. As a result of this analysis and discussion, our mountain safety team creates a ‘Run List’ for the day. All of our runs have been mapped by satellite mapping techniques.

Once in the backcountry, the final decision to ski or board a run is based on the team’s decision and nothing is skied that the group is not comfortable with. Throughout the day, our Mountain Safety Team members are in constant communication to ensure that we are able to safely adapt to any weather or snow changing conditions should they occur.

During the evening, we meet again to re-assess our previous decisions and identify any additional improvements so that we continue to make our guest’s experience as safe and as enjoyable as humanly possible.

Snow Safety

Our operating protocols allow us to be conservative with weather. When the snow stability is good we have more available skiing and boarding options. If the rating is fair or poor we ski more moderate slopes, those less exposed to potential avalanches. We select semi-level, low angle terrain in steepness with no or less probability of avalanche in size. This way we greatly reduce the risk. Occasionally your guide will stop and dig a snow pit. They make a snow profile to find a gliding layer, perform a shear test and assess for a potential avalanche. Skiing and boarding terrain follows selection and guiding procedure is adjusted accordingly.

At Retallack we have developed a comprehensive snow and avalanche management system which includes procedures for collecting weather and snow information, evaluating snowpack stability, assessing hazards in the terrain, and determining an appropriate skiing program.

To control snow stability, our mountain safety staff occasionally use techniques such as ski cutting, snowcat snow pushes (also known as a “cat push”), explosives in conjunction with certified blasting technicians, and a new device called a “Daisy Bell” that delivers a loud sonic boom.

At Retallack, we actively participate in research projects conducted by the Canadian Avalanche Centre, the University of Calgary, the University of British Columbia and other international organizations. All of our data is electronically compiled daily and shared with the Canadian Avalanche Centre.

Vehicle Safety

At Retallack, we utilize a standard fleet of Bombardier Snowcats. All of our snowcat drivers are qualified to operate these machines. In addition, we utilize certified Bombardier mechanics. Each morning and evening, our snowcats undergo a safety inspection.

Our snowcat drivers are responsible for ensuring that their snowcat operates as efficiently and safely as possible without affecting the environment. Prior to boarding, each of our guests will be trained on snowcat safety procedures.

We occasionally utilize snowmobiles during the course of our mountain operations. All staff members are required to adhere to our strict operating protocols regarding snowmobile safety. Our mountain safety staff is also trained in helicopter operations.

Communications

All Retallack guides and drivers, as well as the lodge and office staff have radios and satellite phones with them all day. Our radio repeater system is strategically placed to provide reliable communication throughout our backcountry environment. Retallack Lodge constantly monitors the radio channels and the location of each vehicle. Each snowcat must maintain regular contact and report which ski run and the number of skiers for each run.

Retallack Lodge is equipped with redundant communication systems including: two separate satellite communication networks, VHF radio, Internet (WIFI and Ethernet access), and backup satellite phones. If outside assistance is required, we are able to access E-Comm, a 911 call centre that provides emergency communication services, dispatch, and support systems to emergency responders and the two-million residents of southwest B.C.

Guest Training & Prep

At Retallack we take the safety of our guests and staff very seriously and we continuously strive to minimize the risks inherent to the backcountry. However, there are many factors that we cannot eliminate. Prior to your trip you will be asked to accept these risks in writing by signing a “Release of Liability, Waiver of Claims, Assumption of Risks and Indemnity Agreement” before being allowed to go skiing or snowboarding with us. A properly and fully completed waiver is required from each guest prior to your trip.

Each guest is provided a Retallack backpack, a BCA Tracker DTS avalanche transceiver, shovel, probe, and guest radio. You will be trained on the proper use of this equipment and will be required to carry this at all times while in our backcountry environment. Each Retallack guide carries a pack with avalanche safety gear, rescue equipment, and a first aid kit. Our snowcats are also equipped with additional specialized rescue / medical gear and backup satellite phones.

It is imperative that you give full attention to your guide’s instructions at all times. You and your guide are in a position of mutual trust. Your guide trusts you to follow their instructions, and to stay within the parametres they set. Following instructions and skiing or boarding with caution are the best ways to prevent injury or incident. When we ski in the trees or visually demanding conditions we will also use the ‘buddy system’ for your safety.

The safety briefings and training you receive upon arrival will explain the risks of backcountry skiing and boarding as well as safety in and around our snowcats. These briefings are designed to enable you to understand our safety protocols and allow you to participate with us in managing them to the fullest extent possible.

Guiding

All of our guides are professionals who undergo an extensive and exacting certification process, in which client care and judgement are the primary focus. Becoming a full fledged guide requires years of experience and training. Every one of our guides is certified by either the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (www.acmg.ca) or the Canadian Ski Guide Association (www.csga.ab.ca).

Every day at Retallack, each group has a snowcat driver, a guide and a tail guide. Occasionally, we also utilize a team of safety guides that operate separately from the skiing program. Our safety guides make additional observations in order to facilitate informed decision making by our guiding team. Observations are shared daily between all Retallack Mountain Safety Team members.

Retallack’s Lead Guide helps facilitate guest safety and the ski program. The Lead Guide is responsible for working with each guide, the drivers, and the snowcat road builders to maximize the safety and enjoyment of our guest’s experience. All of our guides must continuously strive to improve their skills – including people skills.

Rescue & Medical Control

At Retallack, we recognize that we are part of an extended emergency chain of care. As such, we actively work with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), British Columbia Ambulance Service, local hospitals and other emergency services. We have established helicopter evacuation agreements and have access to critical incident stress personnel. Many of our staff are certified Non-Urban Outdoor Emergency Care Technicians trained in Advanced Protocols / medication administration and they operate under the oversight of our Medical Directors. All of our medical protocols are evidence-based and have been tailored for our operating environment.

All of our guides are equipped with guide packs containing first aid, avalanche safety and rescue gear. All of our vehicles are equipped with additional rescue equipment including mountain extrication gear such as toboggans, ropes, and backup communication gear. Doctor’s kits and defibrillators are also available to our staff. All rescues and extrications are conducted according to our strict operating protocols.

At Retallack, we strive to maintain a culture of continuous quality improvement. As such, all of our rescue and medical control systems undergo continuous internal and external review.

Continued Professional Development

All of our staff members are required to undergo continued professional development. Mountain safety professional development occurs through internal training programs as well external training conducted by associations such as Association of Canadian Mountain Guides, the Canadian Ski Guide Association, the Canadian Avalanche Association, and Peak Emergency Training.

In an effort to encourage best practices, we also actively encourage other backcountry operators to visit and share their experiences with us.

Safety & Awareness: Information for Guests

Helicopter and snowcat skiing, snowboarding, and other activities that take place in wilderness areas, involve the risk of injury. The information contained in the Safety & Risk Awareness section of this website is intended to inform you of the risks, dangers and hazards you may encounter while helicopter or snowcat skiing or snowboarding, and to help you stay safe while enjoying these activities. Whether you are a participant in these activities or a parent or guardian of a minor participant, please take the time to familiarize yourself with the Safety & Risk Awareness information on this website.

EXCLUSION OF LIABILITY – ASSUMPTION OF RISK

Introduction to Wilderness Skiing and Snowboarding

The term “wilderness skiing and snowboarding” shall include all activities, accommodation, transportation, events and services provided, arranged, organized, conducted, sponsored or authorized by the operator and shall include, but is not limited to: skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, hiking, snowshoeing and other form of backcountry travel; rental or use of skis, snowboards or other equipment; demonstrations; orientational and instructional courses; loading, unloading and travel by or movement in or around helicopters, snowcats, snowmobiles and other motorized vehicles; and other activities, events and services in any way connected with or related to wilderness activities.

The use of helicopter or snowcat skiing premises and facilities, and participation in these activities, involves various risks, dangers and hazards. It is a condition of your use of the premises and facilities and your participation in helicopter or snowcat skiing or snowboarding that you assume all risk of personal injury, death or property loss resulting from any cause whatsoever, including negligence, breach of contract, or breach of any duty of care on the part of the operator. Your legal responsibility as a user of the premises and facilities or participant in activities provided by the operator is explained in the following notice, which you will see posted on the premises.

WILDERNESS SKIING AND SNOWBOARDING

Skiing, snowboarding and cross-country skiing (nordic) involves various risks, dangers and hazards including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Avalanches occur frequently in the terrain used for wilderness activities and may be caused by natural forces or by persons travelling through the terrain.
  • The operator may fail to predict whether the alpine terrain is safe for wilderness activities or whether an avalanche may occur.
  • The terrain used for wilderness activities is uncontrolled, unmarked, not inspected and involves many risks, dangers and hazards in addition to that of avalanche. These may include, but are not limited to: cornices; crevasses; cliffs; trees, tree wells and tree stumps; creeks; rocks; boulders; forest deadfall; holes and depressions on or below the snow surface; cliffs; variable and difficult snow conditions; snowcat roads, snowmobile tracks, and road banks, fences, and other man-made structures; snow immersion; impact or collision with other persons, vehicles or objects; encounters with domestic or wild animals; loss of balance or control; slips, trips and falls; becoming lost or separated from one’s party or guide; negligent first aid; negligence of other persons, including other guests; and NEGLIGENCE ON THE PART OF THE OPERATOR.
  • Negligence of other persons, and NEGLIGENCE ON THE PART OF THE OPERATOR and its directors, officers, employees, instructors, agents, representatives, volunteers, independent contractors, subcontractors, sponsors, successors and assigns.
  • NEGLIGENCE INCLUDES FAILURE ON THE PART OF THE OPERATOR TO TAKE REASONABLE STEPS TO SAFEGUARD OR PROTECT GUESTS FROM THE RISKS, DANGERS AND HAZARDS OF WILDERNESS ACTIVITIES.
  • Communication in the alpine terrain is difficult and in the event of an accident, rescue and medical treatment may not be available.
  • Alpine weather conditions may be extreme and can change rapidly and without warning, making travel by helicopter, snowcat or snowmobile hazardous.

YOU NEED TO BE AWARE OF THE RISKS, DANGERS AND HAZARDS ASSOCIATED WITH WILDERNESS ACTIVITIES AND FREELY ACCEPT AND FULLY ASSUME ALL SUCH RISKS, DANGERS AND HAZARDS AND THE POSSIBILITY OF PERSONAL INJURY, DEATH, PROPERTY DAMAGE OR LOSS RESULTING THEREFROM.

 

Alpine Ski/Snowboard Boot Binding Systems

The ski boot/binding system for wilderness skiing may not release during every fall or may release unexpectedly. The ski boot/binding system is no guarantee that the skier will not be injured.

The snowboard boot/binding system is not designed or intended to release and will not release under normal circumstances. Given the snowboard boot binding system is not a releasable system, it will not reduce the risk of injury during a fall and will increase the risk of not surviving an avalanche.

Helmets

It is strongly recommended to wear helmets for skiing and snowboarding. Skiers and snowboarders are encouraged to educate themselves on the benefits and limitations of helmet usage. See more on snow sport helmets at http://www.myhelmet.ca/.

A helmet designed for recreational snow sports may reduce the risk of some types of head injuries. Helmets are strongly recommended. In some skiing and snowboarding activities (for example snow school lessons involving minors) helmets are mandatory. Helmets for skiing and snowboarding are light, comfortable and have achieved wide-spread acceptance. Please note, however, that helmets have limitations and that serious head injury can still occur even when a helmet is worn. Wearing a helmet is no guarantee of safety.

Airbag Use

The Avalanche Airbag System (AAS) consists of a backpack integrating an airbag system which is inflated by manually pulling an activation handle. Once inflated, an AAS may assist in keeping a person caught in an avalanche closer to the surface, thus potentially increasing the chances of survival. The AAS may not always inflate and may not protect the user against trauma during an avalanche.

Notice to Snowboarders and Telemark Skiers – Increased Risk

Unlike alpine ski boot/binding systems, snowboard and some telemark boot/binding systems are not designed or intended to release and will not release under normal circumstances. The use of a safety strap or retention device by snowboarders or telemark skiers without ski brakes will increase the risk of not surviving an avalanche.

 

Adventure Film Activities

The term “adventure film activities” applies to all wilderness activities as defined in the Wilderness Activities Release Agreement, and, in addition, shall include any activities of any nature or any kind whatsoever relating to the production of photographs, films or videos, or any other activities involving the Releasees, including set up of equipment, scouting for locations, preparatory work, mountaineering, climbing, rigging, safety work, photography, videography and filming.

Adventure film activities are significantly more dangerous than wilderness activities as defined in the Wilderness Activities Release Agreement. The safety precautions normally undertaken in wilderness activities may be reduced or eliminated altogether. These activities are frequently incompatible with personal safety and there is a substantial risk of serious injury or death as a result of engaging in such activities. This risk may be increased due to negligence on the part of the helicat operator, including the failure to take reasonable steps to safeguard or protect guests from the risks, dangers and hazards associated with these activities. The helicat operator may fail to advise guests as to the risks, dangers and hazards associated with adventure film activities or, alternatively, any advice given may be inadequate or incorrect. All these factors will substantially increase the risk of serious injury or death as a result of engaging in these activities.

 

WILDERNESS ACTIVITIES RELEASE AGREEMENT

You will be asked to sign a Wilderness Activities Release Agreement, which is intended to describe the risks, dangers, and hazards that are associated with wilderness skiing and snowboarding AND asks you to acknowledge these risks and accept the fact that injuries and death are possibilities while participating in wilderness skiing and snowboarding.

This is a copy of the Wilderness Activities Release Agreement you will be asked to sign: Wilderness Activities Release Agreement

Wilderness Skiing and Snowboarding Responsibility Code

THE WILDERNESS SKIING AND SNOWBOARDING RESPONSIBILITY CODE PROVIDES THE BASIC RULES OF CONDUCT AND MUST BE FOLLOWED BY ALL USING THE WILDERNESS TERRAIN AND HELICAT OPERATOR FACILITIES. THERE ARE ELEMENTS OF RISK THAT COMMON SENSE AND PERSONAL AWARENESS CAN HELP REDUCE. PLEASE ADHERE TO THE CODE LISTED BELOW AND ALWAYS SHOW COURTESY TO OTHERS.

  1. Listen to and follow your guide’s instructions.
  2. Always stop above your guide.
  3. Ski and snowboard close to other tracks set by your group.
  4. Always keep spacing between each skier and snowboarder as directed by your guide.
  5. On tree runs always ski and snowboard with a partner, remove pole straps and be aware of tree hazards.
  6. Always ski and snowboard in control and be aware of mountain hazards.
  7. Approach and join a waiting/stopped group slowly and cautiously.
  8. Electronics: turn off cell phone reception and don’t impair hearing with music devices.
  9. Never ski or snowboard up to a helicopter; always approach it on foot behind your guide.
  10. Never walk to the rear of a helicopter and always keep yourselves and your equipment low.
  11. Maintain the designated position as a helicopter arrives and departs.
  12. Familiarize yourself avalanche rescue gear: transceiver, shovel, probe and radio.
  13. Always have a skiing and snowboarding partner. Ski close enough to them that you will immediately know if they fall into a tree well or get caught in an avalanche.
  14. You must not participate in wilderness skiing or snowboarding if your ability is impaired through the use of alcohol or drugs.

Also, be aware of the Cross Country Responsibility Code and Mountain Bike Responsibility Code.

 

Helicopter and Snowcat Safety

While wilderness skiing, skiers and snowboarders may use a variety of transportation methods such as helicopters, snowcats, and snowmobiles. Users should be familiar with the use of these transportation methods for their own safety and the safety of others. Guides, drivers and pilots will provide safety briefings that inform users about the process for loading, skiing, riding, and unloading. Pay attention and obey these briefings.

If you are unfamiliar with helicopters, snowcats, or snowmobiles, or have questions, please ask your guide for assistance and direction.

 

Additional Safety Tips

In addition to the Wilderness Skiing and Snowboarding Responsibility Code, here are some additional tips to keep you safe and to help you enjoy your day on the slopes:

WEATHER

  • Plan ahead for variations in weather. Dress appropriately and have properly tuned gear. Warmth and visibility are key safety components.
  • UV rays are reflected from the snow surface. Always wear sunscreen and goggles or sunglasses, even on cloudy days.
  • Cold temperatures increase the likelihood of frostbite. Dress warm, bring extra layers and keep an eye on exposed skin. Go inside immediately if skin begins to turn white.
  • Take note of the conditions. When the snow surface is hard and fast, it is easy to ski/snowboard at high speed, increasing the risk for serious injury if you fall and slide. Be aware of changing snow surface conditions.

TREE WELLS

  • A tree well is the space around a tree under its branches that does not get the same amount of snow as the surrounding open space. This creates a void or area of loose snow below the branches and around the tree trunk that is dangerous to skiers and snowboarders.
  • If someone lands in a tree well, it is often headfirst, which can leave them injured or unconscious, or they may suffocate.
  • When a victim falls into a tree well, their head and arms will likely be heading down into the hole and their skis or snowboard will be above them. Loose snow will start to fall in around the victim as they move, packing them in against the tree. They will be upside down in the tree well.
  • The biggest threat from falling in tree wells is suffocation from the snow packing in around the victim. Another threat can be from hitting the tree and getting injured.
  • If you fall into a tree well, don’t panic. Rapid movement and struggling will worsen the situation. It is important to stay still and save energy. You are not likely to get yourself out and will require assistance from others.
  • Grab whatever part of the tree you can or hug the tree trunk. Grab tree branches or other parts of the tree to try to stabilize yourself and stop yourself from falling deeper. Hold on tight. Look for air pockets to push your head into. Breathe. Be aware that every movement, however slight, will cause more snow to pack in around you. Do not shake the tree. Create air holes and wait for rescue.
  • To prevent falling into tree wells, ski well clear of trees when skiing deep powder. Falling into a tree well is preventable simply by staying away from trees in deep powder.
  • To be rescued quickly, ski and snowboard close to, but beside a buddy. A buddy who is skiing below you on the slope may not know that you fell into a tree well and will have difficulty getting uphill to find and rescue you.
  • Be particularly cautious when skiing and snowboarding in the trees. Tree wells are a real risk.
  • If your ski buddy falls into a tree well, you must respond as quickly as possible to rescue them.
    • Call out to other skiers in your group to notify them. If you have a whistle, blow it to attract attention.
    • Go to the tree well location. Three rescuers are an ideal number of rescuers, so if you are by yourself you may only be able to stabilize the situation until other help arrives.
    • In some simple situations, you may be able to pull the skier out of the tree well; in other situations, they will be too far down for this to be successful. Grasp the bottom hem of the victim’s jacket and carefully pull the victim. At the very least, hold the skier from sliding further into the tree well.
    • In some cases, a receiving platform or trench may need to be dug below the victim to be able to pull them out of the tree well. Successful tree well rescue is a combination of digging, platform preparation, and pulling.
    • Ensure the skier’s airway is clear of snow and that there is an air pocket around their head for them to breathe. Don’t shake the tree or push additional snow into the tree well.
    • If the skier is conscious, reassure them and tell them to remain still and calm.
    • Remove ski or snowboard equipment from the victim if it is safe to do so.
    • When the victim is out of the tree well, assess their condition and apply first aid as required.

See more on tree well safety using the  Tree Well Rescue Best Practices bulletin (below).

AVALANCHES

  • Take an avalanche course. Learn more about avalanches through Avalanche Canada at https://www.avalanche.ca/.

DON’T OVERDO IT

  • Be aware of fatigue; many visitors are on vacation and might not be conditioned to ski or snowboard long days. Warm up in the morning and stretch it out, then tone it down in the afternoon. Stay hydrated and carry a snack with you to keep you fueled.

BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS

  • Be mindful of where you stop on the slope, for your safety and the safety of other skiers and snowboarders. When resting, move over to the side of the run. Never stop under a roller, jump, cat track, or on a blind corner, as skiers uphill from you will not be able to see you.
  • When skiing and snowboarding, be aware of other skiers and snowboarders. Look uphill before you commence downhill, and yield to other skiers and snowboarders.

If in doubt, ask your guide.

 

SKI OPERATOR PREMISES

When visiting a ski or snowboarding operator, the premises is not limited to the skiing and snowboarding activities. Many operators will have lodges, parking lots, restaurants, trails and walkways, access roads, helicopter pads, snowcat garages, and other facilities. You will come across signage throughout the premises that are important to respect and understand. Please pay close attention to all signage. It is present for the safety of both guests and employees. Failing to follow the directions on these signs may result in self-imposed injury. It is your responsibility to be aware of signage at facilities at all times.

Slipping and falling at helicat ski premises has potential for serious injuries and should not be overlooked as a risk. There are many wet, snowy, icy, and slippery surfaces throughout a given facility. Slips, trips and falls are common, and all users should always take precautions. Ski boots and many types of other footwear do not provide good traction, and extra caution should be used when walking. Be particularly careful of slips and falls on snowy or icy surfaces if you have consumed alcohol.