By Ezra Black
Authorities are advising caution in the backcountry as higher temperatures combined with new snow increase the risk of avalanches.
Avalanche Canada’s daily forecast shows an elevated risk today and tomorrow for the Lizard Range and Flathead. The avalanche risk is “high” above the treeline. There has already been some natural avalanches reported Wednesday at alpine elevations and travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended.
An unusually weak snowpack has developed in a number of areas in B.C. in recent weeks but because this condition is localized, regional avalanche forecasts and reports may not reflect this in some areas. Avalanche Canada is urging backcountry users to be very cautious.
“In general it is quite a weak snowpack,” said Josh Smith, a forecaster with Avalanche Canada. “This year the snowpack has been even more shallow than normal. That combined with cold temperatures has made almost the entire snowpack into sugar snow, which is quite weak snow.”
Smith said Avalanche Canada’s bulletins do not pertain to ski resorts, which have their own in-house risk management systems.
“They do their own avalanche control work using explosives,” he said. “[But] as soon as you step outside of a controlled area such as a ski resort, you are responsible for your own decision making in avalanche terrain.”
Avalanches are the deadliest natural hazard in Canada and have killed an average of 13 people a year over the last ten years, which is more fatalities than all other natural hazards combined, said Smith.
Smith said anyone venturing into the backcountry needs a minimum amount of gear and training.
“We’d like to see people have at least a transceiver, a shovel and a probe,” he said. “Those three items are considered the very basic amount of gear to have when going into avalanche terrain.”
Smith said the danger would decrease as we head into the weekend as temperatures drop.