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Updated warning system won't restrict backcountry access

City backcountry enthusiasts are applauding an updated avalanche warning system after the federal government announced it won’t involve restricted access to Canada’s vast wilderness.

City backcountry enthusiasts are applauding an updated avalanche warning system after the federal government announced it won’t involve restricted access to Canada’s vast wilderness.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice announced yesterday in Calgary an avalanche danger scale that won’t restrict backcountry use but allow people to make safer decisions.

The announcement came just days after a massive slide that killed two Alberta men and injured dozens of people attending a snowmobile rally near Revelstoke, B.C.

Outdoor enthusiast Krista Thibodeau likes the new system and supports the freedom to enjoy the open spaces without big brother watching over people’s shoulders.

“It’s impossible to monitor all the backcountry, and as a skier or snowboarder you should know your limitations. But I think the new system allows people to make better-informed decisions about the risks involved,” she said.

The Revelstoke avalanche reignited debate about whether governments need to step in and protect people when conditions are dangerous.

Prentice ruled out such steps by the federal government, which controls avalanche areas within national parks.

“It is impractical to close the backcountry entirely in a country as large as Canada and we will rely, at the end of the day, upon people to make safe choices with the right amount of information,” he said.

The new scale builds on one that was already in place by Parks Canada. It continues to have five conditions ranging from low to extreme, but Prentice said it paints a much clearer picture of the risk involved.

The warnings show the likelihood of avalanches being triggered, their expected size and whether travel is recommended.

The icons are made so that a skier who might not understand the writing next to the warning will still recognize pictures showing what kind of risk is involved.
with files from the Canadian Press