The High Risks of Snowmobiling in the North
By Laura Mooney, Arts Editor
The mountains in Northern British Columbia are undoubtedly a sight to behold. Looming in the distance they look nearly untouchable to the average Northerner, but to us they have become a beautiful backdrop and a part of our Northern lives. There are brave groups of people to whom the mountains become more than just scenery, they become a playground filled with twists and turns, where the bravest are commended for their acts, but do not always leave unscathed. Over the years, snowmobiling, or sledding, has become a winter staple for many of those who live in snowy climates with many of them having ridden sleds for their entire lives. As of recently, the increase in injuries and deaths related to sledding in the mountains has become more prominent, and has caused many seasoned riders to question whether it is even worth it anymore to venture up into the dangerous peaks.
In most recent news, Chris McCoy, a resident of Sylvan Lake was killed near Revelstoke, BC in an avalanche after trying to help a fellow rider who had become stuck in the snow. This has been the second report of a death due to sledding just this year, with the previous death occurring near Valemount in January. While the men were all properly equipped and had avalanche beacons, the conditions were poor due to recent snowfall, and had even been updated as being high risk areas by the Canadian Avalanche Center not long before the men’s arrival. Each incident alone was incredibly tragic, but the common thread between each death is that each man who was killed was quoted as “living for sledding” because of their passion for the sport. This passion that the men felt is no doubt understandable, but is it really worth a day of riding when your life is put in jeopardy? Especially when the day turns to tragedy and lives are lost?
Snowmobiling in high-risk areas has only been an issue within the past ten years or so. With a massive rise in the popularity of the sport, that alone would mean the chances of fatalities occurring would be more likely. However, that is not the only cause. Over the years, huge developments with sledding gear, such as the avalanche beacon, and more powerful sleds than ever, have led to a rise in risk-taking amongst riders. Essentially, since they believe their machine is powerful enough to pull the rider out of sticky situations, they choose to take part in high-risk activities, such as going into banned areas and high risk zones. According to information released by the Canadian Avalanche Center (CAC), in Northern British Columbia, within the last five years alone, there have been over 50 deaths relating to sledding in the mountains. Seeing as a sledding season typically runs from November to March, that means that in a five month span there are approximately ten deaths that occur each year, mostly due to high-risk behaviour.
Thankfully, the CAC has made it their top priority to ensure the safety of riders all over Canada. In an article in The Calgary Sun, CAC member Mary Clayton claimed, “We’re getting somewhere in building a culture of avalanche awareness…we’re building a knowledge base among the people that go in the backcountry, but also their loved ones.” Although the CAC claims the numbers of high-risk sledding deaths are declining, the question still remains, why do riders continue to choose these areas to ride in when they are being made well aware of the potential risks?
It is an unfortunate circumstance when it takes a number of deaths to change the way a person thinks, but hopefully if one positive can come from men like Chris McCoy’s death, it is that it will change the minds of many people who regularly snowmobile in high risk, mountain areas, believing that nothing could go wrong. All it takes is a bit of discretion and the right equipment, in order for countless lives to be saved.