Time to think avalanche safety

East Kootenay residents are heading into the backcountry for winter recreation

There’s snow in the hills already, and though it’s early in the season, people are already heading into the backcountry for skiing and snowmobiling.

Avalanche deaths occur every year in British Columbia, and it is never too early to begin thinking about backcountry safety.

As we move into the winter season, the RCMP are asking skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers and anyone else enjoying the outdoors to exercise caution when leaving groomed and managed trails.

The Canadian Avalanche Centre provides bulletins on conditions around the province, but this early in the year, information is a little hard to come by.

“Producing avalanche forecasts and issuing danger ratings requires information,” said T. Riley from the Canadian Avalanche Centre. “We rely largely on data from professionals and at this time of year, a lot of them have not yet started their winter operations. As a result, in the early season, we often do not have enough information to issue a full slate of danger ratings and other parts of the forecasts may be more a general overview than a specific description of the conditions.

“One thing we notice about the early winter is people tend to go high. This makes sense — the snow falls first in the alpine and there may even be left over patches of snow or glaciers to help cover the ground.  The problem is these are also the spots where you’re most likely to encounter avalanche hazard.

“Wind and storm slabs will form readily in alpine bowls and around ridgelines. They will be poorly bonded to the layers below, during and immediately following a storm.

The weakness will be more pronounced and last for longer in areas where the new slabs overlie last year’s snow, or glacial ice.”

The Avalanche Centre did begin issuing bulletins this week on November 20, but until the flow of information becomes more established some regions may only have danger ratings for some elevations.

Here’s some advice from Riley’s blog.

“A common early season problem is the variability in the “Below Tree-Line” or BTL elevation band. The upper BTL may have close to a metre of snow on the ground, and then it may taper down to nothing (below threshold) in a few hundred metres of elevation loss. The freezing levels bounce up and down from warm wet storms to cool dry breaks, and you head out for your day not even knowing how high you are going to drive before you launch the sled or snap into your bindings.

“As we obtain more information, we’ll add danger ratings to elevation bands and regions, avalanche problems will become more detailed, and the forecasts will be fully fleshed out. We hope you get in the habit of looking at the avalanche problems and develop your understanding of how the problems drive the danger ratings. Take it easy out there and start building your knowledge of the local snowpack.”

And the advice from the RCMP is check avalanche conditions in the area you plan on visiting. If there is a high risk go to another area that is a lower risk.

Plan and be prepared.

Bring along an avalanche beacon, probe, shovel, warm clothing, survival kit, first aid kit, and basic tool kit.

Leave an itinerary with someone, and don’t go alone.

Never rely on other snowmobilers to bail you out. Ride within your limits and ride with respect to the area you are riding in.

For more information on outdoor safety tips and planning ahead please visit the following websites:

Get Prepared – Avalanches http://www.getprepared.gc.ca/cnt/hzd/vlchs-eng.aspx

Canadian Avalanche Centre – http://www.avalanche.ca/

BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure Avalanche and Weather Programs

http://www.th.gov.bc.ca/avalanche_weather/index.html

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