High avalanche risk likely to persist for the rest of the season

Persistent avalanche danger

The heavy snow that fell in many parts of the BC Interior this week has aggravated already dangerous avalanche conditions.

“Many parts of the Interior saw 50 to 100 centimetres of snow over the past few days and we saw a period of high avalanche danger during these stormy periods. Now as that snow sits in cold weather it might get stronger but the weak layers deeper in the snowpack will continue to be a problem. And so because of that, we don’t see the avalanche danger improving quickly,” says senior avalanche forecaster Simon Horton with Avalanche Canada.

He says it likely won’t improve for weeks or possibly the rest of the season. That makes it very tricky for people heading into the backcountry, even if they are experienced.

“We have this weak layer deep in the snowpack and there aren’t many warning signs for people travelling in the backcountry that that kind of instability exists. And if someone is to trigger an avalanche on this deep layer, it will likely result in a very large and destructive avalanche,” Horton points out.

He says as the weather warms up it will get even more unstable.

“March is often one of the more tricky times for avalanche conditions,” says Horton. “We historically see quite a few accidents in March. As the days get longer there’s more warming and the snowpacks are quite deep and complex.

“And so generally, we think these tricky conditions will likely persist in most areas.”

There are a few areas of the province, including the East Kootenay-Boundary and parts of the Coast where the danger is lower, but the threat of a slide is always there. That’s why it’s important to check conditions regularly and manage the risks.

“With proper training and equipment you can travel safely right now, but you want to be very conservative in your terrain choices, which is things like going to lower slope angles and smaller pieces of terrain where you are less likely to trigger a large avalanche,” says Horton.

Last weekend, a group of skiers from the Big White Ski Club ventured into the backcountry and had to be rescued by the ski patrol and Central Okanagan Search and Rescue.

Big White senior vice-president Michael J. Ballingall says because of the high risk, the resort is beefing up its messaging to never venture out-of-bounds.

This has been a particularly deadly winter in BC. Nine people have been killed in avalanches, including some who had extensive experience in the backcountry.

Nate Fochler, a ski guide in Revelstoke, B.C., said this year's snowpack is similar to that in 2003, a particularly deadly year for avalanches in BC. Two slides within two weeks of each other claimed 14 lives near Revelstoke that year.

--with files from The Canadian Press

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