British Columbia

Avalanche Canada warns of 'very dangerous' conditions in mountainous areas of B.C., Alberta

Recreational skiers who are planning to head into the mountains of south central B.C. and Alberta are being asked to take extra caution as the snow pack has become "very dangerous."

A critical weak layer is buried 60 to 100 cm below the snow pack

Avalanche Canada has issued a special avalanche warning for much of Western Canada, including Alberta. (William Bastille-Denis/Radio-Canada)

Recreational skiers who are planning to head into the mountains of south central B.C. and Alberta are being asked to take extra caution as the snow pack has become "very dangerous."

Avalanche Canada issued a special warning Wednesday, after parts of Western Canada saw heavy snow earlier this week. The warning is effective through Sunday. 

According to James Floyer, forecasting program supervisor at Avalanche Canada, the agency is concerned that the snow pack has become dangerous, with a critical weak layer that's buried 60 to 100 cm below the snow pack.

"Unfortunately, that's shallow enough to be easily triggered by somebody on skis or a snowmobile, but it's big enough to result in some pretty large, destructive avalanches," Floyer explained, adding that the snow pack is "very delicate."

Avalanche Canada, Parks Canada, and Kananaskis Country are warning all backcountry users and anyone recreating in avalanche terrain — including those going outside ski area boundaries — to make conservative terrain choices and stick to low-angle or densely forested slopes.

Gaps in snow condition data

With so many backcountry ski lodges closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Avalanche Canada is asking recreational skiers to submit snow condition data for the agency's avalanche forecast. 

In a typical winter, Avalanche Canada depends on professional data from ski guides at backcountry lodges across the province who submit avalanche conditions twice a day, which are critical for the public to navigate the backcountry safely.

However this year, with so many ski lodges closed, the organization is relying more heavily on recreational skiers for data.

"This year ... we have this system that we call the Mountain Information Network (MIN)," Floyer explained. "It's a feature on the Avalanche Canada website and the mobile app and users are able to submit their own observations from the mountain."

The Revelstoke-based agency is encouraging "anyone who's in the mountains" to submit their observations, along with a photo and brief description of what they saw.

According to Floyer, submissions from the public have become very "reliable," and the organization has been able to utilize the information to provide "accurate" avalanche forecasts and bridge any gaps in data.

"You can give as little or as much information as you like," Floyer said. 

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