A Long History: Visitor Saftey Specialists In Our Parks
In the mid 1950s, two serious accidents on Mount Victoria and Mount Temple in Banff National Park resulted in eleven deaths. An all women's expedition team from Mexico and a group of American schoolboys: the first group ignored the advice of locals; the second group did not have enough information or experience for their undertaking. Both tragedies were preventable. It was a monumental wake-up call and stunned by these events, Parks Canada was spurred to rapidly develop its own independent mountain rescue capabilities.
As a first step, Walter Perren, a Swiss-born professional mountain guide who was working in the park at that time, was hired to help develop safety standards and training. The primary aim of the Mountain Safety Program was to acquire and maintain a level of technical competence within the Parks Canada Warden staff. The influence and experience of a professional guide directed the program's evolution toward maintaining a high technical standard of mountaineering and skiing skills amongst staff. The rigorous certification standards established by the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides became the adopted standard for senior Park Wardens in the mountain rescue program. This continues today as Parks Canada Visitor Safety staff who work in the mountain parks are certified with the ACMG. Walter Perrens' contributions have influenced this program for over half a century.
Visitor Safety Specialists (VSS) are professionally trained search and rescue operation leaders. Aside from the skills acquired in guide training, VSS are required to maintain high skill levels in helicopter safety, decision making and organizational efficiency as emergency situations demand immediate and accurate reaction.
When a rescue team is called, VSS respond by land, helicopter or jet boat, depending on the party's location. If a person has suffered an injury in an easy-to-reach-location, the rescue team will likely choose to respond with a four-person crew rolling a stretcher equipped with fat, dirt trail-friendly tires. When the team is called to respond to a remote site or one with difficult access, helicopters are used to reach the victim and to transport them to safety or to hospital. Helicopter rescues are often more practical and efficient than land-based rescues, since they require less manpower for a shorter period of time. Decreased rescue time is always in the best interest of the victim.
Mountain rescue is only one component of a public safety program. Expertise in avalanche forecasting and control is also crucial. Historically, as ski areas developed in Banff and Jasper National Parks, the warden service was tasked with ski patrolling and later with running avalanche control. Today Visitor Safety Specialists are part of Parks Canada's avalanche forecasting/control teams for its Highway Avalanche Control Program. Since the early 1980s, this staff has also produced daily Backcountry Avalanche Bulletins, a source of critical information for public users.
The foundation of the Visitor Safety Program is risk management. Providing information to visitors is part of an overall communication strategy to enhance visitor experience and minimize incidents. Backcountry safety relies on education, information and common sense. When accidents do occur, Visitor Safety Specialists are there to help.
Arc'teryx is privileged to provide VSS with professional uniforms. Please read more about the program and support Parks Canada in maintaining these specialists.Learn More about the Arc'teryx Pro Program and Industry SalesVisit pro.arcteryx.com to find details on industry deals, group purchases and custom uniform programs.