Students and parents have expressed concerns over the future of avalanche education programs within School District 8.
According to an open letter, addressed to superintendent Trish Smilie and director of education Ben Eaton from alumni at L.V. Rogers Secondary School in Nelson, students say the school board is looking to change the program, so students will be operating in a safer environment which will be in-bounds and outside the avalanche terrain.
“As ATLAS alumni, we can attest that this change will have a drastic impact on the ability of ATLAS to deliver quality safety training,” the letter said.
Students say before making this change they were able to gain valuable experience with experienced mentors/instructors, and they have every confidence in their teacher to make sure proper safety steps are taken to avoid a catastrophic incident.
“As ATLAS students we were given the chance to explore the backcountry and to practice safe, prudent decision-making in avalanche terrain in the presence of certified instructors who ensured our safety, ” the letter said. “The program has never seen significant injuries, or fatalities, associated with backcountry skiing. As well, the instructor is a competent mentor and a member of the Canadian Avalanche Association with level 2 certification.”
According to the letter those who enter the program are people who want to, and will, spend time in the backcountry exposing themselves to the dangers that could potentially be fatal. They feel making this drastic change in the environment takes away a vital portion of survival.
“Many students who grow up in the Kootenays will be curious about backcountry skiing and will likely venture into avalanche terrain regardless of what education, or knowledge they may have,” the letter said. “By changing the manner in which this course is taught we may be giving them a false sense of confidence, where they will be at greater risk.”
They say the impact this program has had on students has opened up future employment because of the nature of the skills they learn from learning in the backcountry.
“In addition to being safe and conscientious backcountry recreators, many of us are now professional guides, skiers, avalanche forecasters, search and rescue members, and ski patrollers,” the letter says.
The program was developed to be in compliance with WorkSafe BC and provides students with training over 17 field days and in a variety of low-risk terrain environments so students can master their skills.
Students are asking the district to amend the policy around field trip administrative procedures to allow teachers and students to once again travel and learn in the backcountry.
To date students of the ATLAS program have obtained just over 1,800 signatures to champion their cause to reinstate learning in the backcountry.