British Columbia

Experts remind British Columbians to be prepared when heading into backcountry

This weekend's snowfall and last week's cold snap have created unusual conditions in some backcountry areas, particularly on B.C.'s South Coast, experts say — and they're reminding folks to be prepared any time they head outdoors. 

Avalanche Canada says backcountry conditions are unusual due to recent cold snap and snowfall

Experts are reminding British Columbians to be safe and cautious when heading outdoors as winter conditions can change at any moment. (Chris Burneau)

Police are asking people to avoid the Whistler backcountry in the coming days because of avalanche risks, while experts are urging caution and preparedness for anyone who ventures into B.C.'s wilderness.

It comes after Whistler RCMP reported two deaths and several injuries on the weekend, after skiers and snowboarders were caught in separate avalanches in the Blackcomb Glacier and Brandywine Bowl areas.

This weekend's snowfall and last week's cold snap have created unusual conditions in some backcountry areas, particularly on B.C.'s South Coast, says Avalanche Canada forecaster Ilya Storm

He said cold winds from the north and east, followed by weekend snowfall, has created slabs of snow that are not bonding well with mountain surfaces, particularly in the Whistler area.

Storm says both the snowpack structure and location of problem areas are unusual for the south coast area. 

Both Storm and Jenn Houtby of the Canadian Red Cross B.C. and Yukon are reminding people that while they can get outside to enjoy the wonders of the B.C. landscape, they need to know the area they're visiting and be prepared — especially if they're heading into the backcountry.

Preparation includes carrying face mask

Houtby says that means having a plan for your outdoor adventure, and taking food, water, equipment and supplies and seasonally appropriate clothing. 

She recommends leaving your plan with someone who won't be on the excursion, so that if you don't return on time, they can contact authorities.

Those venturing into the backcountry are strongly advised to take an avalanche skills training course first. Essential equipment includes a transceiver, shovel and probe.

Houtby also reminds people to carry a face mask to wear in the event they come across a person in medical distress.

She suggests calling 911 where dispatchers can offer advice on how to help someone safely, while sending additional help.

"We should be seeking additional assistance and trying our best to maintain a distance while ensuring that that we can provide care and let them know help is on the way," Houtby said.

Trail and park usage is up 60 per cent this year over last, Houtby said, largely due to the people looking for something safe to do outside. 

"Generally speaking, it does feel like it's safer because we can go for a walk with a friend, but we can maintain that six or 10 feet [2-3 metres] of a physical distance when we're exerting ourselves and we can still have a conversation," she said.

With files from The Early Edition and the Canadian Press

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