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Early Nov. avalanche scare

As the snowpack in the interior mountains begins to steadily rise, the dangers associated with it have followed suit.

A heavy storm system Saturday night dumped over 30 centimetres of new snow on the mountains in Rogers Pass, a popular backcountry skiing destination 60 kilometres east of Revelstoke.

The early season snow brought out plenty of backcountry skiers and boarders Sunday, looking for a taste of the sweet, sweet powder that many hadn’t seen in over six months.

The Rogers Pass Discovery Centre parking lot, a popular starting point for Rogers Pass-goers, was filled with vehicles by 8:30 a.m. Sunday morning.

“This would have been the busiest it’s been all season,” said Chris Gooliaff with Parks Canada.

The fervour and excitement in the parking lot Sunday morning was palpable.

For two people, that excitement turned to terror a few hours later.

At about 2:30 p.m., a class 3.5 avalanche was triggered by a skier on the east side of Bruins Ridge, a popular skiing area 1,100 metres higher than the parking lot.

“If you’re looking at destructive power, it’ll destroy a car, it’ll push a locomotive off a track,” Gooliaff said. “We’re talking a lot of force here.”

The slide carried two people 200 metres down the slope, burying one person completely under the snow, save for their hand.

Fortunately, the individual was able to dig themselves out from the snow and both people walked away from the incident.

“It was very fortunate and we’re very relieved that the two people involved were not injured,” Gooliaff said.

At 4 p.m. the two people were picked up by a helicopter and taken out of the area.

“Probably shock and the magnitude of what had happened to them, they needed assistance to get out,” Gooliaff said.

Conditions were ripe for instability Sunday, and the large, human-triggered avalanche off Bruins Ridge wasn’t an isolated incident.

“We were dealing with a shallow snowpack and a rapid loading where basically the height of snow was doubled in the span of two days and the temperatures were warming up as well,” said Gooliaff.

A smaller avalanche was triggered nearby on Balu Pass by a woman, who escaped unharmed, though shaken up.

Gooliaff said there were multiple smaller avalanches triggered naturally in the surrounding area as well.

“Basically, as soon as you can ski or ride your snowboard over top and not be hitting stuff, there’s enough snow to avalanche,” said Karl Klassen, public avalanche warning service manager with Avalanche Canada. “There’s definitely enough snow to slide.”

Backcountry avalanche condition bulletins can be found at the Parks Canada website here.

Klassen said it is still too early in the season for detailed avalanche forecasting.

Avalanche Canada relies heavily on private companies, like heli-skiing, cat-skiing and backcountry guiding companies, to keep them updated on conditions.

“Before we can produce an avalanche forecast, we need data,” said Klassen. “All of our data streams really are not up and running yet.

“It’s unfortunate, there’s enough snow to produce avalanches and avalanches are occurring, but we’d just be shooting in the dark.”

Klassen said their avalanche forecasts are set to begin on Nov. 20.

Regardless of the time of year, Klassen said it’s essential to be well prepared when entering the backcountry.

“We want people to be prepared and make sure if they are getting out there, they have the proper training to assess the avalanche terrain and conditions,” Klassen said. “They have all the appropriate equipment and all the skills for self-rescue.”

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