Can't guarantee safety

Alanna Kelly

In just the first few weeks of 2019, three people have died in the province’s backcountry. 

Public Avalanche Warning Service Manager Karl Klassen said the deaths are not out of the ordinary for this time of year, but are concerning. 

“We average about 12 deaths a year, it is pretty common for us to see fatalities at this time of year, unfortunately,” he said. 

Last season, from December to January there were four deaths. 

“Here we are looking at three in a period of two weeks, it’s sad,” said Klassen.

On January 3, a 42-year-old man died in an avalanche while skiing near Pebble Creek. On Saturday, a Calgary man and his 24-year-old son were killed after they were caught in an avalanche while snowmobiling near Invermere. 

Klassen said conditions were very different in the areas.

“The Pemberton accident was related to storm, snow, and stability,” he said. “Heavy weather, lots of snow, lots of wind and lots of warm temperatures… those are classic recipes for avalanches.”

The stormy conditions on January 3 are when avalanches are common in the upper levels of snowpack. 

In Invermere, the layers in the Purcells causing the problems are very different than the south coast mountains. 

“Those layers that formed in October are really large, sugary grains that don’t bond well together,” he said. “They don’t get stronger in the long term.. those are the kind of problems that persist for an entire season.”

Klassen says the Purcells is the place right now in the province that people need to be really careful.

“We hope they are using information that we provide to help them make informed decisions about what kind of risks they are willing to take,” he said.

Avalanche Canada is trying to make their information more accessible and launched a new app a few weeks ago so backcountry enthusiasts can get data while away from a desktop. 

“It’s impossible to guarantee 100 per cent safety when you go into the mountains into an uncontrolled environment,” he said, 

“Even when you do everything right you can still have something unexpected happen.” 

Danger ratings across the province are low right now, but Klassen expected it to change as the weather changes this weekend. 

“They will probably go higher where there is a fundamentally weak snowpack so I suspect we will see the danger ratings in the Purcells to rise,” he said. 

Those headed to the mountains should make sure the check this link before heading out and make sure you are prepared, trained and have safety equipment. 

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