Avalanche risk very high in Alberta, B.C. mountains

A very high risk of avalanches in most of the mountain ranges in Western Canada has prompted officials to issue a special public warning.

Many areas have unstable layers of snow covered by more recent snowfalls

The Canadian Avalanche Centre is warning that conditions are dangerous in the mountains of Alberta and B.C. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

A very high risk of avalanches in most of the mountain ranges in Western Canada has prompted officials to issue a special public warning.

The problem is a result of the extended dry period of late January and early February, said Canadian Avalanche Centre warning manager Karl Klassen.  

"That long drought left the surface of the snowpack in very bad shape,” he said.

“Now the new snow is sitting on one of the worst weak layers we’ve seen in a few years. That weakness is currently anywhere between one and two metres deep so, when it’s triggered, the resulting avalanches are very large.”

There was an extremely large slide near Fernie earlier this week, said Klassen.

“The thing that's of concern right now is that the number of avalanches that we're seeing is actually decreasing as the layer kind of adjusts to the load that's been applied to it,” he said.

“But the size of the avalanche is getting larger.”

Klassen said the risk stretches over most of B.C. and the eastern slopes of the Alberta Rockies.

The special avalanche warning for recreational backcountry users will be in place until Feb. 26. The dangerous conditions could last for weeks depending on the weather, Klassen said.