With the early-season excitement of winter now in full effect across BC, avalanche forecasters are warning that sliding snow is one of the main risks that exist in mountains this time of year.
And while people may think that not enough snow has fallen yet to pose any real risk, James Floyer, a forecaster with Avalanche Canada said that’s simply not the case.
“There have already been reports of avalanches, including one significant near miss,” he writes on the association’s website.
In fact, he said, on smooth terrain (like glaciers, grass, shale slopes and rock slabs) as little as 30 cm of snow is enough to create avalanches.
In high-alpine bowls and ridgelines, snow slabs formed by wind and winter storms can develop easily and are often “poorly bonded” to the snow layers underneath.
At this time of year – as well as in the middle of winter – the avalanche risk increases immediately after a heavy snowfall, he explained. If the temperature rises during or after a storm, or if there is rain, avalanche danger is likely to increase further.
What you should do
Avalanche Canada doesn’t start officially issuing avalanche bulletins until next week, but if you’re thinking about – or already planning – an early-season backcountry ski trip, there are a number of precautions you should take beforehand:
- Know before you go: In the absence of bulletins, the next best thing is to talk to people who have been out recently in –or around – the area you’re planning to head to. Inquire as to what sort of conditions they experienced. Did they see any avalanches? Was the snow stable? The more information you have, the better you can prepare.
- Watch the weather: Has there been recent snowfall in the area? How much? What are temperatures like, and how much are they fluctuating? What’s the forecast?
- Know the snow: Be aware of what is underneath the snow that you’re riding on. Not just other layers of snow, but what that snow has fallen on: Old snow? Glacial ice?
Be properly prepared
It should go without saying, but we’ll say it anyway. Anyone planning to travel to the backcountry needs t0 make sure they carry the proper safety equipment with them.
This includes an avalanche transceiver (make sure to check the batteries), avalanche shovels, and probes. Those who use balloon packs should make sure they function properly before heading out. Make sure everyone in your group knows how to use their safety gear properly.
Finally, it’s always a good idea to practice avalanche rescue skills in non-avalanche terrain to keep yourself refreshed and knowledgable before heading out.