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Avalanche shuts down Highway 3

A storm with heavy snowfall triggered an avalanche Friday morning that closed Highway 3 for more than six hours.

The avalanche came down 18 km west of Fernie at 11 a.m, blocking traffic both ways.

The avalanche, which was rated a 3.5 scale slide, covered the highway 2.5 metres deep in snow.

Mainroads B.C. were eventually able to clear the roads at around 6:30 p.m. and avalanche technicians continued to blast the area afterwards, but none of the avalanches that were triggered reached as far as the highway.

Sgt. Dave Dubnyk from the Elk Valley RCMP said it has been a long time since an avalanche in that area has blocked the highway.

“The avalanche technician said it was a fairly significant slide, and most of the snow didn’t actually make it to the road.

“It has been about 40 years since an avalanche has occurred in that area,” he said. “Back in the 1960s diversion dykes and static defences were put in place and these had been effective, up until Friday.

“Fortunately, a woman saw the avalanche happen from the road, and was able to tell us that nobody had been caught in it. So luckily nobody was hurt, but the highway was closed for many hours.

“The avalanche technicians will be back in summer to reassess the area.”

The Canadian Avalanche Centre issued a special warning for the southeastern parts of the province following the avalanche. The warning was lifted on Tuesday, but avalanche danger remains considerable.

Backcountry skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers are being warned to avoid avalanche terrain.

“We’re recommending people stay on trails or valley bottoms,” Karl Klassen, manager of the CAC’s public avalanche warning service, said Friday.

“Skiers and snowmobilers should be especially wary of stopping or regrouping in areas exposed to avalanche terrain from above, even in valley bottoms. This is not the time to be making aggressive terrain choices.”

He said anyone venturing into the backcountry needs to be equipped with a shovel, probe and transceiver.

At the moment, avalanche hazard conditions are rated as considerable in the South Rockies.

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