Dangerous avalanche conditions in Alberta and B.C. prompt warnings

Dangerous avalanche conditions have developed in Alberta and B.C. mountain ranges, prompting safety experts to urge would-be visitors to alter their plans.

Warm temperatures, winds and fresh snow create ideal conditions for slab avalanches, safety experts say

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

Dangerous avalanche conditions have developed in Alberta and B.C. mountain ranges, prompting safety experts to urge would-be visitors to alter their plans.

In Alberta, avalanche hazards are trending to high in areas that include Banff, Kootenay and Yoho national parks as well as Kananaskis Country, particularly in treeline and alpine zones.

Affected areas in B.C. include Glacier National Park, North Columbia, South Columbia and the Cariboos.

The hazards come after a long period of stable conditions in the mountains was disrupted by heavy snowfalls since Jan. 27.

About 30 to 50 centimetres of fresh snow now sits on top of the previous snow surface.

According to Avalanche Canada forecaster Ilya Storm, warming temperatures and winds have contributed to instability between snow layers.

"One of the rules of thumb with avalanches is that the longer the surface is exposed to the weather, the bigger the problem it's going to be once it's buried," Storm said.

Parks Canada visitor safety specialist Lisa Paulson, who represents Banff, Yoho and Kootenay national parks, says that conditions are now ideal for slab avalanches.

"We're expecting that bond between the new snow and the old snow to be just poised for natural avalanches — and certainly human triggering in the upcoming days will be likely on that interface,"  Paulson said.

Those who were hoping on making trips to affected areas should adjust their plans and check avalanche forecasts, Paulson said.

"Right now, people shouldn't go into avalanche terrain."

Tips for staying safe

Weather conditions are expected to improve in the days ahead, Paulson said, but cautioned that avalanche risk will remain high.

She recommends that visitors stick to lower elevations, and to stay away from overhead risks such as steep slopes.

"You can't see sometimes, the instability, and it might be a bit alluring," Paulson said.

Keeping an eye out for signage that signals avalanche terrain can help steer visitors in the right direction, but those who aren't seasoned enough to recognize it on their own should consider heading to a ski hill instead.

"Moving ahead, it's still going to be very dangerous conditions," she said.

"It's actually a good time to visit ski hills. They still have fantastic skiing right now, and if you're not sure what avalanche terrain is, people can bump into it pretty quickly when they leave the trail heads."

Those in search of a safer alternative can also contact visitor information centres for ideas, she said.

"They're fantastic at directing you to trips, cross-country, snowshoeing, where you can stay out of avalanche terrain completely, and have an amazing time," Paulson said.

With files from Dave Gilson.


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