What do Bears and Avalanches have in common?

My work as a WildSafeBC coordinator is very rewarding and fulfilling especially when I help people prepare for the back country.  Bear spray is a valuable tool that can help save lives in the event of a bear attack.  Much more effective than a gun, bear spray flat out stops a bear in his tracks allowing you the time to vacate the area into safety.

From what I have experienced, people who purchase bear spray don’t simply want to have it.  They want to know how to use it.  Seriously how effective will it be if  you don’t know how to use it?  I spend many hours teaching people not only how to use their bear spray, but also how to avoid a bear encounter in the first place.

Some ask if I am afraid going out fishing in bear country.  “there are bears out there don’t you know”? I was born a bush baby, and even as a young child I went out fishing alone with my trusty lab.  I knew to watch for signs of bear activity, and should I see fresh scat or a hidden food cash stored by a bear or cougar I knew to immediately leave the area.  In adult hood  I have increased my education and understanding of back country safety.  I go out prepared, avoid encounters, have my bear spray and I know how to use it.  Am I afraid? No I’m not afraid.  I enjoy every moment out there whether I am catching fish or not.

The best back country bear encounter is the one you avoid.  Recognizing signs of bear activity, and understanding the actions needed to diffuse a bear attack are important back country practice.  Bear spray in your back pack, is not effective in any way shape or form so it is now common practice to wear the spray on a holster either on your hip or pack.  Common sense in my mind.. but is common sense really common any more?

If we look at the snowmobile community it is now common practice to wear avalanche transceivers, and carry a shovel and probes on their person.  Sure we have some who are vying for a Darwin award and still have yet to do so, but mountain riders for the most part are riding with their safety equipment.  My question is can they use it?  One wouldn’t simply pack bear spray and expect it to save their ass when a Grizzly bear is charging them would they?  No.  So why do we expect transceivers to magically save our lives or the lives of our riding partners by simply wearing it.

Hours of practice are necessary to develop the muscle memory, the mental and emotional familiarity to  effectively conduct a transceiver search.. very much like a bear attack, time is of the essence.  Every second counts when you are searching for a buried avalanche victim.  The only way to be effective is to practice.

Avalanche skills training doesn’t give you a free pass to do whatever the hell you want in the back country.  It doesn’t somehow make you invincible because you have a certificate.  Avalanche skills training is only as effective as the individual willing to practice and utilize that training when it counts.

Are people feeling peer pressured into having the equipment and education?  Are they spending the bucks simply not to be “that guy/girl”?  In the case of bear spray my answer would be no, as people absolutely do not want to deal with a face full of bear and potentially lose their lives or the lives of a loved one.  They want the equipment to save lives, but this seems to be the exact opposite thought process for many snowmobilers.  Got the gear.  Got the education.  Now I can hold my head up high and not be one of those losers without it.  How dare those losers go out into the back country ill prepared.

Back country safety doesn’t work that way.  Do yourself a favor and practice.  Practice your searching, digging and probing skills.  Dig snow pits to understand the snow pack and look for potential signs of weak layers.  No different than noticing a steaming pile of Grizzly bear crap on a trail, these subtle clues give you insight into how to avoid a potentially deadly encounter.  Use your head always.

In my mind an avalanche is infinitely more powerful and unpredictable than a Grizzly bear so please treat it as such.  Please get the gear and the education but after doing so take nothing for granted.  Lives are on the line, and lives matter.  Practice with your equipment and put your training into action each and every ride you enjoy.




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