With new funding, Yukon avalanche forecast returns to full service levels

Those heading out for backcountry adventures in the Yukon can breathe a little easier this winter, as the territory's avalanche forecast will be returning to full service.

White Pass regional avalanche forecast gets boost after $25M federal contribution to Avalanche Canada

"A skier travels above the South Klondike Highway in the White Pass area. The avalanche forecast for White Pass provides backcountry safety information for the region that encompasses parts of Yukon, northern B.C. and Alaska." (Submitted by Yukon Avalanche Association)

Those heading out for backcountry adventures in the Yukon can breathe a little easier this winter, as the territory's avalanche forecast will be returning to full service.

The Yukon Avalanche Association will be returning to a complete avalanche forecasting program for the White Pass and Wheaton Valley starting in January 2020, communications director Ben Horowitz confirmed on Tuesday. 

That means a team of avalanche technicians will be heading into the areas multiple times a week, producing three weekly forecasts, compared to one in previous years. 

The Yukon Avalanche Association had been operating in a "reduced funding environment" since 2016, Horowitz said, leading to the reduction in service. However, a one-time $25 million endowment from the federal government to Avalanche Canada allowed it to return to full service for the 2020 season and beyond.

"Avalanche Canada's making a tremendous investment in the Yukon," said Horowitz. "To get the program up and running, it's probably going to cost about $300,000."

The Yukon government also contributes $60,000 annually to the program, he said.

"This new money from Avalanche Canada, it was announced earlier this year ... we were all waiting to see what it meant for the North. And now we really know, it's a return to the full program again."

In the intervening years, where funding required a reduction of the program, Horowitz said backcountry travellers relied on reports from other private citizens in order to determine the safety of their routes.

"People stepped up in a big way to really provide their own field observations to help others," he said.

Avalanche Canada's Yukon field team taking observations in the White Pass area, winter 2019. The funding means that field teams will be in the area three to five times per week during the winter months, said Horowitz. (Avalanche Canada)

Normal start to season, but be careful

As for the start of this year's season, Horowitz said things appear to be fairly average in Haines Pass and White Pass, with snow packs slowly building. 

However, because it is early in the season, confidence "should be low, no matter what the conditions are," he said. 

"Destabilizing weather patterns can have a negative impact on stability in the backcountry, there's no question about it," said Horowitz. "I would remind folks that conditions towards the coastal areas are very different than here in town."

The Yukon Avalanche Association will be kicking off their new season with a party on Thursday, Nov. 28, said Horowitz. Tickets are available on the association's Facebook page.

With files from Jane Sponagle, Leonard Linklater


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