Editorial- Avalanche hazards

The variable spring weather has led to some rather confusing avalanche conditions.

Springs has arrived, bringing with it a crazy mix of weather that can include snow, rain, and sun – sometimes all in the same day. The confusing weather has led to some rather confusing avalanche conditions.

Although spring usually seems like a great time to venture out into the backcountry – the sun is often shining, the snow is soft, and the temperature is mild – now is not the time to let your guard down. There are critical avalanche layers at all aspects and elevations, making for some very tough decision making in avalanche terrain. Each and every decision you make should be made slope by slope and hour by hour. Being continually aware of your surroundings is essential to staying safe.

This season has seen a particularly troubling snowpack with persistent weak layers remaining a problem in most areas. Several incidents have occurred throughout the province over the last few months, many of them fatal. Two of the more recent snowmobile accidents happened in cut-blocks – areas below the treeline cleared by logging companies. While it’s a common misconception that riding below the treeline can be a safer choice in terms of avalanche danger, it’s not always the case. With warmer temperatures and wet snow at low elevations, riders need to be especially wary of avalanche terrain near the valley bottom.

Until conditions improve, the Canadian Avalanche Centre is recommending travelling on small, simple, low angle terrain with no terrain traps. Exposure to large slopes and cornices above should also be avoided whenever possible.

The Canadian Avalanche Centre is urging outdoor enthusiasts to make cautious and conservative decisions while in avalanche terrain. It is critical that all backcountry users go out equipped with the necessary safety equipment for avalanche terrain. If you’re travelling in a large group, every single person should have their own avalanche transceiver, a probe, and shovel.

Equally important as bringing the right equipment, is knowing how to use it. When an avalanche occurs there is no time to go for help. The critical window for finding and extricating a victim is just 10 minutes, giving them an 80 per cent chance of survival. And the odds drop dramatically after that. At just 35 minutes, there is less than a 10 per cent chance of survival.

Living in the powder-filled Elk Valley it’s tough not to explore our endless winter wilderness. Nobody is saying don’t go into the backcountry, but if you do go, make sure you have the gear, the training, and the area knowledge to safely enjoy the experience.