Not yet winter, but avalanches can happen, safety group warns

It might only be the middle of October, but Avalanche Canada is urging people who are heading into the mountains to be ready for the conditions.

Skier killed in 'Death Trap' avalanche near Lake Louise last month

An avid skier from B.C. died last month after an avalanche pushed him off a very large cliff near Lake Louise. (Parks Canada)

It might only be the middle of October, but Avalanche Canada is urging people who are heading into the mountains to be ready for the conditions. 

Karl Klassen, a warning service manager with Avalanche Canada, says it's early for avalanches, but they are not completely out of the ordinary.

"If there is enough snow to ride on with your skis, or your snowboard, or your snowmobile, you need to be thinking about avalanches — especially on smooth terrain, especially on steep terrain, and especially in places where there are terrain traps." 

While many think of avalanches as a winter-only event, they can happen anytime.  

A British Columbia man died last month when an avalanche pushed him off a large cliff near Lake Louise. There was no avalanche warning in effect in the area.

Trevor Sexsmith, 27, was with a friend ascending Mount Victoria when the pair decided to turn back due to weather conditions. The avalanche occurred as the two men were heading down, pushing Sexsmith over a cliff near Abbot Pass, which separates Alberta's Banff National Park from British Columbia's Yoho National Park..

The route to the pass has been nicknamed "The Death Trap" due to the high risk of avalanches and other overhead hazards in the area.

Jeff Bullock, an educator with the outdoor centre at the University of Calgary, says people should always approach the mountains with a degree of caution.

"Getting educated, talking with people, talking with locals, talking with park wardens, taking courses, just trying to get yourself up to speed before you jump into some big slope."

Having avalanche equipment such as a shovel, probe and transceiver is important, Bullock says, but practicing with them before heading out is crucial.

"I recommend at the very least, even for experienced people, one full eight-hour day a season to review those skills."

Bullock's next avalanche safety course is in November and it's open to the public. 

With files from Terri Trembath