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Advisory warns of heightened avalanche risk in backcountry

'We're definitely in a period of rising danger right now,' said Ben Horowitz, with the Yukon Avalanche Association

'We're definitely in a period of rising danger right now,' says Ben Horowitz of Yukon Avalanche Association

Members of the Yukon Avalanche Association travel in the White Pass in this file photo. 'A cautious approach is warranted' if travelling in the backcountry this week, says Ben Horowitz of the Yukon Avalanche Association. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The first Yukon avalanche advisory report of the season has been issued, and the message to backcountry adventurers is clear: keep it simple this Christmas — and stay safe.

The report says snow conditions are still largely unstable, so Yukoners heading to the White Pass or Haines Summit areas should proceed with caution.

"We're definitely in a period of rising danger right now," said Ben Horowitz, with the Yukon Avalanche Association (YAA).  

Late fall conditions were mostly dry and crusty, until a storm rolled through two weeks ago dumping over 50 centimetres of snow. Horowitz says when that much fresh snow falls on bare or crusty ground, the conditions become ripe for avalanche activity.

Horowitz encourages people to get informed about conditions in the backcountry, before heading out. (Submitted by Ben horowitz)

"A cautious approach is warranted," he says.

'Red flags' may not be evident

Two weeks ago, an avalanche was triggered by a split-boarder exploring some of the more complex terrain around the Log Cabin area of the White Pass. Luckily, no one was seriously injured in the ordeal but one skier was hit by the avalanche and carried downhill a short distance.

Jasmin Dobson, who has been skiing backcountry across North America and Europe for 15 years, was in the area the day before the slide was triggered, and she's also been around previous avalanches in the White Pass area.

She says that the classic "red flag" indicators of avalanche activity — such as "whomping" and cracking — aren't widespread in the pass right now, but that doesn't mean it's entirely safe.

"It happens really quickly," she said. "Everything is fine one second, but if you're in the wrong spot, you can trigger something."

Jasmin Dobson skiing at Summit Creek near the White Pass. (Submitted by Jasmin Dobson)

The latest avalanche advisory recommends "low angle terrain with uniform snow distribution" as the safest place to play over the holidays, or until conditions evolve.

Dobson says it's important for backcountry users to remember that even at lower elevations, hazards such as rocks, tree wells and open water could be hiding just below the fresh snow.

She says people who want to get out over the holidays but haven't been out yet this season should check out the Yukon Backcountry Snow Sharing Network page.

Horowitz said it's important for backcountry users to get informed before they head out.

"The truth is, sometimes we just have to take it as it comes and manage stability, and manage our exposure to the mountainous environment, as kind of the fundamental approach to being in the backcountry," he said.

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