Wild Jobs: AdventureSmart Executive Director

Sandra Riches

We all know that things can take unexpected turns pretty quickly. Those unforeseen events can have dire consequences when they occur in remote wilderness environments. Planning ahead, carrying proper gear, leaving a trip plan, and having the knowledge and skills for the activity you’re doing are all essential for a safe, comfortable day outdoors. In short, just remember the Boy Scout’s motto, ‘Be Prepared‘. But how do you know if you’re prepared? You might assume that you’re carrying enough food/water for the outing, but have you brought extras in case you’re out longer than anticipated? You might think building an emergency shelter is easy, until you have to do it in the driving rain and gale-force wind. You might consider a snow slope to be safe, but are you able to read the landscape and identify potential hazards and terrain traps? The old adage ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ fits perfectly with the wide world of outdoor adventure.

Do you know what to do in case of an emergency? Photo Credit: Tom Zajac from Coquitlam Search and Rescue

Luckily, there are ways to keep yourself safe while continuing to enjoy the great outdoors. In this very column, I have covered a number of individuals and organizations who are dedicated to keeping folks safe and responding to emergencies. Careers such as Avalanche Forecasters, Rescue Specialists, Mountain Safety Teams, Search and Rescue (SAR), and even Park Wardens all function, in whole or in part, for the continued safety of the public. There are ways, however, where you can take personal responsibility for more of your own safety and that’s where organizations like AdventureSmart come in.

Sixteen years ago, AdventureSmart was started in British Columbia and since that time has grown into an internationally sought after outreach program. The provincial campaign is supported by the BC Search and Rescue Association (BC SARA) and focuses on increasing awareness to help reduce the number and severity of search and rescue incidents. Based on the success in BC during the first five years, the program went national in 2009 and is supported by the Search and Rescue Volunteers Association of Canada (SARVAC) and Public Safety Canada.

AdventureSmart’s Executive Director, Sandra Riches. Photo courtesy of BC AdventureSmart

Recently I had the pleasure of chatting with Sandra Riches, the Executive Director and BC Coordinator for AdventureSmart in British Columbia. Sandra has been with BC AdventureSmart since 2005 and has also worked with national affiliates on curriculum development, program delivery, volunteer training, and national public safety for incident prevention. She is a wealth of knowledge, and can explain her job, and the role of AdventureSmart, far better than I can, so here she is.

Calgary Guardian: “For those of us who don’t know, could you give a brief synopsis of what AdventureSmart is?”

Sandra Riches: “AdventureSmart, and its suite of five programs, is a national prevention program focused on reaching Canadians, and visitors to Canada, who participate in outdoor recreational activities. In order to provide the largest possible number of Canadians and visitors with consistent and relevant safety information, and to ensure that opportunities to engage the public are maximized, AdventureSmart and its partners take a broad, encompassing approach to the delivery of adaptable safety information in-person, and online. Through the collaborative efforts of our various partners, regional coordinators, and volunteers, AdventureSmart is dedicated to encouraging participants to ‘Get informed and go outdoors’.”

CG: “What types of programs are offered? What kinds of skills are being taught?”

SR: “We have five programs under our AdventureSmart umbrella, all available free of charge to outdoor enthusiasts, school groups, students, and outdoor groups, for all ages and anyone who’s interested in the outdoors and personal safety. Our programs are for residents of Canada, new Canadians, and tourists. The skills being taught vary depending on the program delivered; for example; the Hug-A-Tree and Survive program helps lost children survive in the woods. It teaches children how not to become lost in the woods, and what to do should they become lost. Hug-A-Tree and Survive is a great program to bring into your family, classroom, guide or scout unit, youth group, or any other community group interested in teaching kids about being safe. The Survive Outside program focuses on the three Ts; trip planning, training, and taking essentials, in addition to outdoor travel, and search and rescue in Canada and BC regions. This program primarily focuses on outdoor safety, personal preparedness and responsibilities, risk mitigating, and incident prevention. The PaddleSmart program is designed for youth and adults who want to paddle, whether it is using stand-up paddleboards, kayaks, or canoes. Topics include trip planning, training, and taking the essentials for water-based activities. Segments on moving water and coastal water can be added to the presentation depending on location. Our Snow Safety Education program is geared towards grade 4-12, focusing on personal preparation for the ski hill, safety signage, the alpine responsibility code, in-bounds hazards and safety, out-of-bounds hazards and backcountry awareness, including basic avalanche awareness and snow science. The focus to all of our programs is outdoor safety, personal preparedness, risk mitigation, and incident prevention, in addition to equipping outdoor enthusiasts with the knowledge and skills to preventing an incident. Also, incase of an emergency they’re also knowledgeable and equipped to alert search and rescue while maintaining their own safety.”

Promotional poster from the Hug-A-Tree & Survive program. Photo courtesy of BC AdventureSmart

CG: “Why should outdoor enthusiasts take a program with you?”

SR: “They should take a program with us to be a part of the solution, to be more prepared in-case of an emergency, to be responsible outdoors, to mitigate risk, to create safety habits, and to help us reduce the number and severity of search and rescue incidents in BC. They should take a program with us to BE AdventureSmart.”

CG: “Are there costs associated with enrolling in your programs?”

SR: “No! All of our program delivery, training, and outreach is free of charge!”

The sequence of steps when calling for help. Photo courtesy of BC AdventureSmart

CG: “I understand that you work closely with other industry professionals. What do these relationships look like?”

SR: “We work closely with BC SAR, they support our campaign 100% financially, and we collaborate with all of the 79 SAR groups, consisting of 2,500 SAR volunteers. We also work closely with BC Parks, educating park visitors before they visit the parks and during their visits, in addition to training Park Rangers as BC AdventureSmart ambassadors to share our safety messages consistently. We work closely with Avalanche Canada throughout the winter months and pre-winter months. Our collaborative efforts are focused on avalanche awareness, tree well safety, trip planning, training with regards to Avalanche Skills Training courses, and decision making. We work closely with Destination BC and Destination Marketing Organizations, they support our incident prevention messages by including them on their social media platforms, using our boilerplate messages and linking/tagging us to offer resources to their followers. We also work closely with first responders and outdoor industry affiliates, including the District of North Vancouver Fire Department, North Shore Mountain Bike Association, Geo-Caching groups, Spearhead Huts, Parkbus, Backcountry Access, Kootenay Swiftwater, SARVAC, and Public Safety Canada.”

CG: “Earlier you said the AdventureSmart program went national. Does that mean there’s a presence right across the country?”

SR: “Since 2009 AdventureSmart has been represented in every province and territory. BC is unique with our campaign, based on our provincial support from BC SAR. We have a paid Executive Director, outreach crews, plus 375 volunteer presenters, and abilities to travel BC delivering safety messages and training. The remainder of Canada increases awareness with volunteers for AdventureSmart.”

Something to keep in mind when heading out the door on your next adventure. Photo courtesy of BC AdventureSmart

CG: “How can someone get involved? How would we request a program?”

SR: “If someone is interested in volunteering with us, as a presenter and or ambassador, they can take our free training workshop. We take requests via the website or by email (execdirector@adventuresmartbc.ca). If someone is interested in having our safety programs delivered to their school group, workplace, corporation, or outdoor club, they can request that presentation through the website or DM one our provincial social platforms (links below).”

CG: “How many people annually are your programs reaching? Are you seeing a reduction in SAR-related incidents because of them?”

SR: “We deliver our presentations and share our messages to upwards of 40,000 people a year, face to face. BC has on average 1,700 SAR incidents per year, that annual call volume is larger than anywhere else in Canada, hence the reason AdventureSmart was first started. Reducing the call volume and the severity of SAR incidents are our primary goals. SAR volunteers aren’t seeing the annual call volume decrease, however they are witnessing a reduction in ‘searches’ and more time allocated on ‘rescues’. Success of the BC AdventureSmart program is calculated in many ways; number of participants reached, proof of outdoor users being prepared, such as wearing their safety whistles on ski jackets/backpacks, filing trip plans using our AdventureSmart Trip Plan App, being more prepared for an emergency, and ability to safely keep warm and dry, possibly for the night, while waiting for SAR to locate them and bring them home to safety. Success is also noted online as more outdoor users share their outdoor adventures and safety practices, and challenges, for others to learn from.”

Do you have the app? Photo courtesy of BC AdventureSmart

CG: “Is there anything else you’d like to add?”

SR: “We’re successfully offering online opportunities, by presenting our programs virtually with e-learning presentations for all of our curriculum. They’re interactive, educational, fun, creative, and informative. This is currently, and will continue to be, one of our dynamic methods of outreach to meet the needs of our active province and to help everyone BE AdventureSmart. We also provide ‘giveaways’ on our social media, promoting season and sport-specific prizing to our followers.”

CG: “Thank you Sandra, for taking the time to answer all of my questions. I know with the summer season about to get underway you’re very busy at the moment, so I really appreciate it.”

Get the app and stay connected! Photo courtesy of BC AdventureSmart

To find out more, or to prepare for your next outing, please visit the AdventureSmart website. You can also stay connected with the BC chapter on social media by following them on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. The national body can also be found on both Twitter and Facebook.


About this column:

Wild Jobs is a running series that focuses on people in outdoor-related professions. It provides a brief snapshot of their career and the duties that it entails. Please see my previous post, Wild Jobs: Nordic Walking Guide to learn more.

About Tyler Dixon 217 Articles
Tyler is originally from Saskatchewan, and yes he cheers for the Roughriders, but don’t hold that against him as Calgary has been his home for the past eight years. He is a teacher working at a wilderness- based treatment program for youth working to overcome addiction. Tyler is also a volunteer with the GOT Parks initiative, which aims at reconnecting Canada’s youth with our national, provincial, and territorial parks. During his time away from work, Tyler enjoys outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, and snowboarding, team sports, travelling, photography, spending time with good friends, and being at home with his wife and German Shepherd, Rome.