Avalanche Canada issues pre-season warning to backcountry

Official forecasts may not start until next week, but Avalanche Canada says that doesn’t mean the slopes are safe from the threat of slides.

In fact, the agency is warning backcountry users that they need to be on their guard, because the risk for avalanches has been rising thanks to the already-abundant snowfall this season, and – at least until next week – no one is keeping an eye on it.

“We don’t have detailed assessments of where the most dangerous places are at this time, and, so, the onus really does come to the individual person to have those skills,” Avalanche Canada forecaster James Floyer told CBC News.

In a statement issued late last month, the agency said conditions this season are already sufficient to have caused a number of reported slides, including one “near miss” in late October in which six skiers triggered an avalanche in the Purcells, partially burying two of them. Fortunately no one was injured in that incident, but it does underscore the need for those venturing out on the slopes to be aware of their surroundings.

Similar conditions exist on Vancouver Island, according to the Island’s Avalanche Centre. In a statement on the Centre’s website, they said winter had also come early to the “Island Alps”, with the avalanche risk rising at higher elevations and on smooth terrain. Official forecasting for the island’s mountains is also set to begin later this month.

In last month’s bulletin, Floyer cautioned that early season avalanches can be particularly nasty, as there isn’t much snow pack between you and the bare ground, with “rocks, slash, deadfall, stumps, etc. exposed or just below the surface.”

“Even a small avalanche that pulls you over and/or through an obstacle course like this can be deadly serious,” Floyer adds.

Avalanche Canada’s daily bulletins start on November 23. Until then, the agency recommends individuals heading into the mountains gather as much information as they can before they go by talking to others who’ve been out recently, keeping an eye on the weather, and knowing what’s under the terrain they’re riding on.

The bulletin also reminds travelers that the risk is highest after storms, particularly if the temperature rises during or after the storm, or if there is rain. “It’s worth remembering that on smooth terrain (like glaciers, summer snow, grass, shale slopes and rock slabs) as little as 30 cm of snow is enough to create avalanches.”

Sources: Avalanche CanadaVancouver Island Avalanche CentreCBC News|