B.C. avalanche risk elevated due to heavier than expected snowfall

Avalanche Canada warns alpine backcountry is at high risk, especially near Fernie B.C., after a 50-centimetre snowfall.

Avalanche Canada urges caution: Watch for 'shooting cracks, whumps,' and 'wind slabs'

Snow is so deep and wind-swept in parts of B.C.'s interior alpine areas that 'wind slabs' are created, which easily turn into avalanche risks. (CBC)

Heavy snowfall is elevating avalanche risk in parts of B.C., especially in alpine zones near Fernie B.C., said an Avalanche Canada expert.

More than 50 centimetres of snow fell yesterday, when only 10-15 centimetres was forecast, said ​Ilya Storm, forecast program supervisor for Avalanche Canada in Revelstoke B.C.

A special warning has been issued Feb. 19-22 for recreational backcountry users in the North and South Columbia, the Purcells, Kootenay Boundary areas, and Glacier National Park.

Beware 'wind slabs'

"There's an elevated chance that people could trigger avalanches," said Storm, urging caution in alpine and backcountry zones that he expects will remain hazardous with cold temperatures predicted to last until Monday.

Fernie B.C. skiers will be tempted into the mountains this weekend with 50-centimetre snow, but told to beware backcountry. (CBC)

"The weather is clearing up and it's really tempting to head up there," Storm said. "Be cautious."

Fernie B.C.(Lizard and Elk Valley Range area)

A heavier than expected snow fall has raised avalanche risk to "high" near Fernie B.C. 

"It was way more than [the 10-15 centimetres] we expected," said Storm. "Please be extra cautious."

North Shore and Coastal Mountains (Cypress, Grouse and Seymour and Hemlock Valley)

The local mountains near Vancouver have also seen heavy snow fall and high winds. Storm said this concentrated the fresh powder into drifts, causing "wind slabs" on the downwind sides of ridges and gullies.

Those snow pillows rapidly add weight to the underlying snow which takes some time to adjust and can be unstable.

"Snow hates rapid change," Storm explained.

"It's important [to know] that if you leave the ski areas there is not a professional who is managing your avalanche risk. You have to manage the risk yourself," he warned.

B.C. Central and Southern Interior (Purcells, Kootenay-boundary and Glacier National park)

Deeper layer of snow make backcountry dangerous here because the obvious signs of risk are difficult to detect.

Invisible 'whumps'

"Like shooting cracks or whumps, said Storm. "The problem here is avalanches could be very large."

A "whump" is an unstable pillow of snow that collapses underfoot with a "whump" sound. A shooting crack is a crack in the snow that shoots out from a person's ski or feet as they move.

Avoid large slopes in alpine and tree line areas, especially in places that don't get ridden much.

Five times more snow fell than expected near Fernie B.C., spiking the avalanche risk. (CBC)


Avalanche experts urge training to be able to assess conditions before heading into the backcountry.

And don't forget a pole, shovel and avalanche transceiver (plus the ten essentials).

Ten essentials

  • Map and compass 
  • Sun glasses/sunscreen
  • Warm clothing
  • Headlamp/flashlight
  • First aid supplies
  • Fire
  • Repair kit and tools
  • Food
  • Water
  • Shelter


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