In­ter­view

Jennifer Coul­ter leads an all-fe­male team that’s chang­ing the face of avalanche com­mu­ni­ca­tion

Powder - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - —Cas­sidy Ran­dall

Tragedy cre­ates change

Avalanche Canada is­sues avalanche fore­casts for the largest sin­gle swath in the world—more than 155,000 square miles span­ning from the U.S. bor­der to the Yukon—the back­bone of which is a stream of data from pro­fes­sion­als at ski ar­eas and guided op­er­a­tions.

At the helm of the South Rock­ies field team, the only one in the re­gion, is Jennifer Coul­ter, leader of the group that was cre­ated in 2009 af­ter a se­ries of heartbreaking avalanche ac­ci­dents.

Any given day in win­ter finds Coul­ter, an avalanche dog trainer and in­struc­tor co­or­di­na­tor with the Cana­dian Avalanche Res­cue Dog As­so­ci­a­tion, head­ing to dif­fer­ent zones with her Bel­gian Mali­nois, named Pika, in tow. She spends her day­light hours ski tour­ing or sled­ding to cover as much ter­rain as pos­si­ble, dig­ging snow pro­files and mak­ing ob­ser­va­tions that she re­ports back to fore­cast­ers in the Revel­stoke of­fice.

Along the way, she’ll take a slew of photos and video as part of the South Rock­ies team’s one-of-a-kind com­mu­ni­ca­tions strat­egy that’s rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing broad­cast­ing avalanche in­for­ma­tion and mod­el­ing safer be­hav­ior.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, we still get some peo­ple mak­ing jokes like, “Do you ac­tu­ally even hire guys on the field team?” since it’s been all-fe­male the past few years. The hir­ing hap­pens to be done by all men—who hired the women on this team be­cause we’re the best qual­i­fied for the job.

We did used to get asked how we “found our way around the back­coun­try with­out a guide,” and “where are the dudes/boyfriends you are rid­ing with,” but that doesn’t re­ally hap­pen any­more.

I was a ski pa­troller and dog han­dler for Fernie Moun­tain Re­sort, and avalanche tech­ni­cian for my lo­cal search and res­cue group. We got a SAR call for the Spar­wood ac­ci­dent, where eight lo­cal snow­mo­bil­ers were killed. I worked all three days on that res­cue/re­cov­ery mis­sion, and it had a pro­found ef­fect on me.

I saw that com­mu­nity at its most vul­ner­a­ble, far out­side the stereo­type, and it was a com­mu­nity reel­ing from the ef­fects of that tragic event. It’s why, when a po­si­tion on the new South Rock­ies field team came avail­able in 2012, I jumped at the chance to work in pub­lic avalanche safety. It was a way to bring to­gether so many skills, and a way to work through that avalanche ac­ci­dent.

We started out mak­ing some Youtube videos, and then we started a full com­mu­ni­ca­tions strat­egy us­ing Face­book and In­sta­gram, where we speak di­rectly to the pub­lic. It’s a slight shift from the top-down model in that we’re tak­ing a “show” vs. “tell” ap­proach, where peo­ple see good ter­rain and travel choice over and over again in an en­gag­ing way.

I love the in­flu­enc­ing be­hav­ior, prob­lem solv­ing, and clear com­mu­ni­ca­tion of dog train­ing.

Pika is a lot of dog and def­i­nitely keeps me hum­ble as a trainer, push­ing my skills fur­ther than I would have ever needed with an eas­ier dog. Her par­ents were both work­ing dogs—her fa­ther was ac­tu­ally a dis­as­ter search dog—that had the char­ac­ter, heart, and drive I was look­ing for in a search dog. I love the en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm she puts into her work, and ev­ery­thing she does.

I know I’m sup­posed to say that my fa­vorite part of my job is the pow­der, but it’s ac­tu­ally the peo­ple.

I’m so busy I rarely get to just go ski­ing any­more, but that doesn’t change my love for work­ing in the moun­tains. Be­cause they’re awe-in­spir­ing, beau­ti­ful, chal­leng­ing, and, quite frankly, a lit­tle bit scary. No two days are alike, and there are men­tal and phys­i­cal chal­lenges to keep you oc­cu­pied for an en­tire life­time.

‘Bring Your Dog to Work Day’ is ev­ery day for Coul­ter and Pika. Photo: Martina Ha­lik

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