British Columbia

Dangerous avalanche conditions to persist in B.C. after deadly start to year

An Alberta man who died south of Valemount Saturday was the third person to die from an avalanche this year in B.C.

Avalanche Canada says the snow pack will likely remain weak due to cold weather

Two small skier-triggered avalanches are seen in this file photo taken near the Alberta-British Columbia border. (Robson Fletcher/CBC)

Following the third avalanche death in two weeks, forecasters say dangerous conditions will persist in B.C.'s north and Interior.

Cold weather expected in the province starting next week will keep the snow weak, according to Avalanche Canada forecaster Simon Horton. 

"In the areas where we currently have a dangerous snowpack structure, we're expecting that to stay the same for some time," said Horton. 

The avalanche that killed an Alberta man about 30 kilometres south of Valemount Saturday was rated a Size 2.5. According to Avalanche Canada, a Size 2 avalanche can kill a person, while a Size 3 avalanche can destroy a car or small building. 

Horton said the Interior mountain ranges have a below-average snow depth that is 60 to 70 per cent of the typical depth for this time of year. 

These conditions, In combination with loose snow layers, created by periods of extreme cold in November and December, have produced an unusually weak snowpack, he says.

Stormy weather on the northwest coast is also creating treacherous conditions. 

"If you are going out, it's a time to pick very conservative terrain," said Horton. 

Zoe Ryan, another forecaster at Avalanche Canada, said Saturday's avalanche was remotely triggered by the riders at the bottom of the slope. 

Ryan said backcountry users should stick to low-angle terrain and avoid any areas near avalanche terrain. 

"You may not actually be riding in avalanche terrain, but you need to consider what's above and what's beside you." 

A map shows avalanche risk in the province is low on B.C.'s south coast, moderate to high in the Interior, and moderate to high on B.C.'s northwest coast.
Avalanche Canada danger map pictured on Monday Jan. 23. Yellow = heightened risk, orange = dangerous and red = very dangerous conditions. (Avalanche Canada)

'A layer of marbles'

Dale Mason, a search manager with Robson Valley Search and Rescue, says the snowpack base is very weak this year, with nothing holding it to the ground.

"It's basically a layer of marbles up there."

Mason said their team was not able to land its helicopter on Saturday due to the ongoing avalanche risk. 

They recovered the body Sunday after Parks Canada performed avalanche control measures. 

"I'm recommending that people make informed decisions on where they choose to ride."

Valemount Mayor Owen Torgerson said the incident is a sober reminder to backcountry users to look into conditions before heading out and be prepared. 

"Having these kinds of incidents occur, they hit home."

"Our thoughts are with the families and friends of everyone involved, and our thanks are with our emergency responders."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Gomez is a CBC writer in Vancouver. You can contact her at michelle.gomez@cbc.ca.

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