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Unstable snowpack has Kananaskis avalanche expert on edge, urging caution

A perfect storm of weather conditions has a Kananaskis avalanche expert on edge, warning outdoors enthusiasts to be vigilant.

Surface snow build up 'presents a bigger problem as it grows'

Kananaskis avalanche expert urges caution

5 years ago
0:58
Unstable snowpack conditions could be a problem 0:58

A perfect storm of weather conditions has a Kananaskis avalanche expert on edge, warning outdoors enthusiasts to be vigilant.

"In terms of depth, it's about average [but] the quality of the snow pack is quite different," Alberta Parks public safety specialist Matt Mueller told CBC News.

He says the potential instability of the snow pack is in the layers.

"The mid pack, the middle third, is quite weak. And because we have not seen a large scale natural avalanche cycle, that leads us to believe that it is quite touchy. As the surface snow builds and becomes more of a cohesive layer, that presents a bigger problem as it grows."

The snowpack below the tree line is about half of what it normally is in the Kananaskis area, while alpine snowpack is about normal, and that creates instability, an avalanche expert says. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Mueller says the amount of snow below the tree line is about half of what it normally is this time of year.

"We have about 50 centimetres on the road which is a bit unusual, normally we are at about a metre," he explained.

"On top of that you all of a sudden have a layer of cohesive snow. That will fail as a piece, a chunk, it will literally just roll on top of the weaker layers down below. That is the transition we are at now."

Avoid big alpine terrain

Parks officials are warning users to be extra cautious in these conditions.

"Right now we are suggesting that people avoid big alpine terrain and even being exposed to it.

"You may be in the valley bottom but you might be in an avalanche path that initiates in the alpine, so you could still be exposed to that risk without being aware of it."

Alberta Parks public safety specialist Matt Mueller says extra caution is needed when venturing out into avalanche areas right now. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

There are a few tools that can help if you get caught in an avalanche, he said.

An avalanche transceiver, a device that can send and receive signals, is highly recommended along with a probe that can penetrate snow and a shovel for digging.

Mueller says everyone who ventures into avalanche territory should carry all three pieces as there is a considerably risk right now.

"People should educate themselves on avalanches in general," he said.

Up-to-date conditions can be found at the Avalanche Canada website.

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